A film review by Craig J. Koban March 31, 2019


2019, PG-13, 109 mins.


John Goodman as William Mulligan  /  Ashton Sanders as Gabriel Drummond  /  Vera Farmiga as Jane Doe  /  Madeline Brewer as Rula  /  Alan Ruck as Rittenhouse  /  James Ransone as Ellison  /  Kevin J. O'Connor as Kermode  /  Machine Gun Kelly as Jurgis

Directed by Rupert Wyatt  /  Written by Erica Beeney and Rupert Wyatt




CAPTIVE STATE is a new freedom fighters battling an alien invasion and occupation sci-fi thriller that has an awful lot of compelling ideas and themes as far as this very overstuffed genre goes.  It's a tremendously ambitious movie.  

But, gee whiz, it's also messily scripted, ineptly edited, and, worst of all, quite dull overall, which makes it especially hard to care about anyone or anything in the storyPlus, and this might sound weird, but CAPTIVE STATE suffers from, well, being a movie.  Watching it is akin to just being dropped off in the middle of an opening season of a TV series and then having the rest of the two hours cramming in everything and trying to make sense of what's transpiring.  This is all too bad, because writer/director Rupert Wyatt is a filmmaker that I admire, who previously made the thanklessly good PLANET OF THE APES reboot trilogy opener and the very decent remake of THE GAMBLER.   

I will say this, though: CAPTIVE STATE at least tries to be a different breed of alien invasion entry in terms of not being primarily driven by endless and monotonous city disaster porn.  Unlike the litany of other similar genre films, Wyatt's efforts here are less compelled by bombastic, CGI laced spectacle between humans and their E.T. visitors than it is with focusing on the ground zero aspects of the human survivors and their overall mood in trying to formulate plans to take their cities and planet back.  Even the aliens themselves are never dwelled upon or even shown that much here, which is refreshing in its own right.  As commendably understated as this approach is, CAPTIVE STATE contains rushed scripting and virtually no meaty character development at all, which makes the film's "heroes" all the more interchangeably disposable and their overall plight all the more dramatically unsatisfying. 



CAPTIVE STATE opens with some rather hastily cobbled together title cards that serves the purposes of exposition, trying to force in as much information as possible about the history of the alien invasion and how they came to occupy and rule Earth in the aftermath.  It's the not too distant future and the planet has become the new home for extraterrestrial visitors with vile intentions.  Unable to stop this invasion, the countries of the world and humanity as a whole surrendered and, in the process, set up multiple shell governments that are ruled over by and must report to "legislators", or alien ambassadors sent down from the main mother ship that orbits the world.  All major cities have their populations restricted to sealed "closed zones" that prevent access and movement of people outside of them.  Worse yet, people have these ugly little tracking worms implanted in their necks, making an uprising all the more impossible.   

All of this is pretty intriguing stuff. 

The main meat and potatoes of the rest of the story revolves around Chicago and a clandestine terrorist organization that's attempting to assassinate a local government agent working with the aliens in hopes of, in turn, escaping the closed zone and mounting an even bigger attack of the aliens.  Concurrent to this is the subplot of a highly determined police chief (John Goodman) that's in cahoots with the alien legislators to identify, apprehend, and ultimately dispose of all of the members of this cell.  The chief has his work cut out for him , because if he's unable to get the job done in a very timely fashion then the aliens will take matters into their own hands and will essentially bomb the city back to the Stone Age and eliminate the terrorist threat easily, which also will lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent citizens. 

There's a kernel of compelling thematic material at the heart of CAPTIVE STATE, especially when it comes to the political overtones of a foreign occupation and a small band of insurgents trying to stave off this much larger and highly dangerous oppressor.  There are also the notions of how normal people become radicalized into a cause that they see as just and right and how nothing will stop them, not even the inevitable threat of death.  Furthermore, the idea of rebels striking out against a vastly stronger and more technological advanced race is at the core heart of science fiction and the alien invasion genre, which is hardly new here.  But Wyatt and his co-writer (and wife) Erica Beeney are trying to use the genre as an outlet to discuss and dissect topical concepts that have a real world tangibility.  CAPTIVE STATE is admirably low key in its overall approach, less driven by effects and more on the fragile mindsets of the humans behind the cell, whose only motivation is survival and the perpetual dream of attaining freedom, no matter what the cost. 

It's so ultimately disappointing that Wyatt can't seem to pull this film together to create some semblance of a deeply cohesive and enthralling whole.  There's so much bloody information about the whole alien versus human conflict tossed at viewers too quickly in the opening sections that it feels like the movie is kind of lazily glossing over them.  There's nothing inherently wrong, per se, with thrusting viewers into the thick of a universe instead of wasting too much time with explaining everything, but CAPTIVE STATE doesn't really do a good job of quick world building so that we can settle into its narrative.  The other negative side effect of this approach is that it leaves audience members desperately trying to piece details together and makes sense of what's going on, who's who, and how they relate to one another in the large scheme of things.

The characters that populate this film are vague abstractions, only given the most basic of cookie cutter motivations and back stories to flesh them out; they're all murky entities that don't really compel our rooting interest in them.  There's an easy case to be made that there are simply too many ill defined characters all vying for the spotlight of attention in the narrative, and CAPTIVE STATE really has no focal point of perspective because of its distracting manner of switching back and forth from one random and disinteresting protagonist to the next.  And none of these characters is afforded any captivating traits, other than the fact that they all share to desired goals of winning their freedom over their alien jailors.  There's just no one to relate to over the course of the film, and when Wyatt attempts to haphazardly provide some history for one key character in particular (through a very quick and oddly rendered flashback) it occurs so late in the story that it's all for naught. 

CAPTIVE STATE does capture the dystopian repulsiveness of its ravaged Chicago settings, and Wyatt does craft a few sequences of genuine nail biting tension (there's a remarkably suspenseful scene near the mid section of the film pitting the terrorist cell launching one part of their plan of attack at Soldier's Field that's a key highlight, but then the film never once contains a similar sequence afterwards of the same intense potency, making the film's third act feeling uninspired).  There's a certain appreciation one can have as well with the more micro-budget approach of CAPTIVE STATE, which, again, avoids explosions, firefights, and effects and instead tries to favor ideas and characters.  Still, I couldn't help shake the sensation that Wyatt's film would have worked better as something else, like a multi-part graphic novel or a TV mini-series that could have expanded more sufficiently on what he was trying to within the short confines of a film running less than two hours.  CAPTIVE STATE concludes with a bit of a non-ending that seems to hint at a sequel that will most likely never come, which is a bit of a cop out.  There's a good science fiction story buried somewhere here, but CAPTIVE STATE is held hostage by its own overstuffed, muddled and lackluster execution.   

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