'Captive State' - That was...I think....Huh...A Brandon Schreur Cinema Review

Captive State

I feel fairly confident in saying that Captive State is most likely going to be one of J.J. Abrams’ favorite movies of 2019.

I say that while not having any kind of idea what movies he’s into viewing on his own personal time, but rather because Captive State feels an awful lot like something he would make.

From Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Gambler (anyone else remember that one? Starred Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson and John Goodman? No? Can’t say that I blame you, to be honest) director Rupert Wyatt and co-screenwriter Erica Beeney, Captive State is a new science-fiction horror thriller that really has no interest in being a science-fiction horror thriller.

I mean, maybe it does in some ways, but this has way more Black Mirror or Twilight Zone vibes than you’re likely expecting.

Captive State
credit: YouTube

Set in a semi-dystopian Chicago, Captive State takes place nine years after the earth was invaded by aliens that, essentially, wiped out a large part of our population.

Thing is, most of the humans still alive don’t really care anymore.

They might have tried to rise up and fight back against the aliens at first, sure, but after numerous failed attempt and several tragedies later, everyone just kind of gave up.

After all, these aliens aren’t as bad as they may have initially expected them to be. They label themselves as legislators, force everyone to segregate to one place and can feel slightly oppressive at times, but they really aren’t interested in starting a war against humans any more than we are.

Captive State
credit: YouTube

Rather, they just want some of the resources that our planet has to offer. If we act complicit and leave them to their business, they’ll leave us to ours.

Starting to see any political references yet?

There are, of course, a select few who aren’t ready to bow down to the new extra-terrestrial overlords. Rafe Drummond (Jonathan Majors), a young African-American man who was born and raised in the area, is on the brink of creating a secret revolution to squash those space freaks where they stand.

When his efforts are shut down by a ruthless government official named William Mulligan (John Goodman), the job then falls to Rafe’s younger brother, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders).

At least, that’s kind of what the movie is about? It’s the premise the trailers sold us on, at least, and all of that is certainly inside Captive State, but there’s also a whole bunch of other stuff that a brief synopsis couldn’t even dream to cover.

Captive State
credit: YouTube

Like, for example, Vera Farmiga as an underground prostitute is a major plot-point, Machine Gun Kelly shows up for two scenes as a character who has literally no significance at all and Madeline Brewer (Handmaid’s Tale, Cam) gets five seconds of screen-time to briefly establish that Gabriel has a girlfriend, even though she never factors into the story whatsoever.

All of that to say that Captive State can totally turn on a dime and change course without notice — which, actually, makes the film kind of fun.

There’s going to be a large number of people who don’t like this movie at all, and I totally understand that. Of course, you’d be foolish to expect that Wyatt was going to make any kind of standard alien invasion thriller (even the trailers indicated there was something more going on), but the script itself is really unconventional in the way it flip-flops between characters and storylines.

At first, that bugged me a little bit just because the script seemed unfocused and we, as the audience, couldn’t attach ourselves to any of the characters. Eventually, however, I kind of took a step back and was reminded of a recent tweet I’d seen from Sinister and Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson (he can sometimes be rather pretentious on his Twitter, but can also be quite well-spoken when he wants to be).

Captive State
credit: YouTube

“Audiences are drawn to tentpole movies by the way of spectacle, but judge those films by the quality of the characters,” he wrote.

With that in mind, I started accepting Captive State for what it is and wound up really kind of digging the movie. There are still problems, of course, but there’s also a lot we can point to that’s great, too.

Mainly, I think Rupert Wyatt directed the absolute hell out of this thing.

Putting whatever your feelings about the script may be aside, Wyatt clearly had a general premise for a film and ran with it. You can feel his passion as a filmmaker, which then translates into a really intense experience. Even if you aren’t in love with the characters in here, there are some scenes — one of which on a football field, another of which in a bus garage — that are captured in such a unique way and I really like them quite a bit.

Captive State
credit: YouTube

Unfortunately, the bummer aspect about that is that I’m not really crazy about how this film was shot. Whenever the aliens are onscreen in Captive State, things are so dimly lit that you really can’t tell what’s happening or what they’re supposed to look like (the shaky cam doesn’t help with that, either). Yes, they’re going for a Cloverfield or A Quiet Place kind of quality here where they don’t want us to see the monsters for very long, but the whole thing is so dark that we can barely even see them at all.

On a more positive note, though, I’m also going to give some serious credit to Goodman. Majors, Sanders and Farmiga are all good (I’d like to say the same about Brewer, but she really was completely wasted), but this is Goodman’s movie. Some elements regarding his character might be a bit predictable — there’s a scene in the beginning that they expect us to forget about until it factors into the end, even though I did like the execution on that reveal — but Goodman is so good that it doesn’t even matter, really.

Just cast Goodman in every movie out there and it’ll automatically make it ten times better.

Someone could walk up to me and tell me that they loved Captive State and I’d get why. Someone else could walk up to me and tell me that they hated Captive State and I’d also get why. While the film has flaws (spectacle is great, but we still need SOME kind of character work to take us through it), I’m finding myself more on the positive side the longer I think about it.

Captive State
credit: YouTube

So, here’s what I’ll say — why not give it a chance? Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t, but supporting original filmmaking like this is never a bad thing.

Watch the trailer for Captive State here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!

'Captive State' - That was...I think....Huh [REIVEW]
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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