Written by Tom Moore
Likely best known for his directing work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt trades apes for aliens with his new lo-fi sci-fi thriller, Captive State.
Following a group of resistance fighters 10 years after an extra-terrestrial force takes Earth captive, the film showcases life in a Chicago neighborhood after these aliens begin to impact daily life. People are forced to wear tracking bugs in their necks, living conditions degrade, and the government has complete surveillance control — making privacy a thing of the past. Oh yeah, and horrifying creatures have a looming presence over the Chicago population, which has mounted a resistance that is ready to ignite a match that will light a war.
Rather than focusing on just one character’s journey to leading a resistance against the alien force, Wyatt instead creates an ensemble that lets viewers in on both those who want to resist and those who want to collaborate with the alien force.
On one side, we see a group of fighters who secretly works to destroy the alien force’s hold on society. While the two main players are brothers Gabriel (Aston Sanders) and Rafe (Jonathan Majors), Wyatt is clearly juggling a lot of other players that can leave viewers scratching their heads. Some of elements he is trying to juggle definitely fall out of place—especially when he focuses on one character for so long that you can forget that the other is in the movie. However, where Wyatt succeeds in making this juggling act intriguing is when he gives a great amount of details about their processes and their roles in subtler ways. The strong performances from Sanders and Majors also play their part in creating a resistance that’s both alluring and delightfully secretive.
Often times, characters shown in the resistance won’t be introduced by what they do. Instead, Wyatt implements a show-don’t-tell strategy that effectively makes viewers understand each character’s role. He also adds an immense amount of details to certain sequences that gives an in-depth insight into how the resistance operates. There’s a very long sequence in the film that literally gives an elaborate, piece-by-piece lead up to an attack that I found to be incredibly fascinating to watch. Watching it made me feel like I was a part of their plan and you can feel the slow, but powerful build to an intense climax.
Now, the other side’s story mainly focuses on government agent William Mulligan (John Goodman) and gives a little bit more background on the mysterious alien race. Goodman does a solid job, as expected, but his character is pretty much just there to give us insights on how the aliens interact with the government and what they are necessarily after. Honestly, we only get to see the aliens a few times, but every time they appear, they leave their strong, horrifying imprint on each scene. By the end of the film, I was definitely more curious about them and the small details we get from Wyatt’s show-don’t-tell antics made me pay attention every time they made their presence known.
Captive State ends up being a really strong showing for Wyatt and the themes about resistance and power, while nothing too special, make the film more interesting throughout. However, then it happened: my sequel-senses started tingling. All of the signs are there. You’ve got Goodman’s Mulligan giving small hints to what the aliens are really after, Gabriel learning that he might be a bigger piece of the puzzle than he initially thought, and you even have a moment where the “closed zone” is being teased only for the film to cut to credits.
In a nutshell, Captive State’s ending is pure sequel bait. Now, this isn’t to say that this makes me not cross my fingers that there could be more, but hoping is all I have right now and having this kind of ending did leave me a little unsatisfied.
To give Wyatt credit, though, the fact that I’m crossing my fingers at all suggests how good the film actually is. Captive State is intriguing in what it doesn’t fully show and there’s enough notable effort put in for me to say that it’s worthy of more. Whether or not it’ll actually get there is up to the box office, but if you ask me, I’d give it the green light.