A lot of times filmmakers think they can blend sci-fi with dry poignancy and have it be effective. Reality is, a film has to be entertaining first and foremost before we can start caring about what it has to say on a deeper level.
Captive State feels like a movie made by people who understand sociopolitical themes, but not so much the genres of science fiction or action.
The majority of the story takes place nearly ten years after aliens have taken over the world and enslaved humans. They’ve somehow brainwashed the mass public to believe that life is in fact better now that they are in power. And even law enforcement is tasked with keeping the rebels under control.
We follow Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders), brother of famous resistance fighter and hero, Rafe Drummond (Jonathan Majors)–who is presumed dead after a police raid. Considering he’s our protagonist, we go long stretches of the movie without seeing Gabriel–about 30 minutes at one point. Talk about manipulated perspective.
It turns out that Rafe is, in fact, still alive and in hiding. He’s helping Gabriel get out of town before the resistance has another deadly war with their oppressors.
If this sounds the least bit interesting, don’t hold your breath. The concept of this movie is way more fun than the movie itself. Unfortunately, the premise is nearly impossible to figure out without long drawn-out pondering sessions–disruptions in focus which ultimately lead to us having to play catch-up the rest of the time. It’s almost as though this movie prides itself on not explaining anything. In fact, more is told to us via onscreen text than through actual storytelling. The premise is pretty simple, so it shouldn’t be this hard to figure out.
We do, however, get a gripping opening scene which takes place around the time when the aliens first begin their takeover, where Gabriel and Rafe are with their parents trying to flee from the aliens. Initially we think we’re in for an intriguing journey. Oh, how wrong we are. From here on out the movie is a complete mess.
Captive State is an alien movie with hardly any aliens. Unlike 2008’s Cloverfield–another alien movie with not a lot of aliens–where the suspense comes from a limited perspective of characters running away from crumbling buildings and friends getting killed, Captive State shows its hand right away. We see the aliens in the first scene, so there’s nothing to build up to–even more evidence that its priority is to prove its points rather than entertain.
Of all the possible stories in this film’s universe, this can’t possibly be the most interesting one. It feels like the filmmakers have already skipped over the interesting parts without us. Which might explain why we’re being forced to invest in characters we don’t even know yet.
Without giving anything away, the final scene is actually extremely thought-provoking. Although it proves to be hollow since the rest of the film has seemingly no ties to it, making this ending seem gratuitously thrown-in. Now we’re just mad that what led up to it wasn’t better.
Captive State is directed by Rupert Wyatt, who has one really good movie on his resume (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and another bad movie on his resume (The Gambler). The former is a solid sci-fi movie, the latter is a below-average drama. Similarly to The Gambler, Captive State gives us a plot without knowing how to string us along. It goes for an indie vibe filled with commentary, but we just want it to be good. Perhaps if the film tried to capitalize on its strong concept and sci-fi foundation, we could’ve gotten something to hold on to. Because it does have things to say–even if they’ve been said a million times before. Either way, no one’s going to listen.