Written and Directed by Rupert Wyatt, CAPTIVE STATE follows several characters and multiple perspectives in a Chicago neighborhood in a world completely operated by an extraterrestrial force known as 'The Legislators'. The film portrays numerous aspects of this alien occupation, and chronicles the both sides of a brewing conflict between the human race and the aliens.
This is an extremely unique and likely very polarizing movie. Rather than a blockbuster-actioner laden with huge visual effects, CAPTIVE STATE is a somber look at 9 years after the major war has already occurred. What would usually be our primary focus is the framework of the story, which instead is much more of a political-espionage thriller with sci-fi elements. This automatically may be a turn off for some, but I found myself consistently intrigued and excited by the events that play out in the story. Aliens appear throughout the film but only in glimpses and from a far, usually. However, when we do see them up close, the effects work is actually quite impressive for a film made on $25 million. Not all the CG work is great but for the most part, much of it is very seamless and realistic in appearance. The creature design is also very well-done. The Legislators are extremely intimidating antagonists that, despite rarely seeing them in full, maintain a presence over the entire film. Some characters refer to the beings as 'Roaches', due to their insectoid behaviors and language, which consists of strange clicks, gurgles and buzzing. The sound design for these aliens is particularly effective, with many sequences upping the suspense due simply to the offscreen sounds of The Roaches, especially during a key scene toward the third act. The film succeeds in making us very intimidated of The Roaches, despite their infrequent appearances.
It's unfortunate that Captive State has a very unfocused structure. Scenes jump from character to character, with the closest thing resembling a lead being John Goodman's character Bill Mulligan. We never really manage to feel invested in every one of these characters, and instead can only attach to a few. Goodman easily has the best part, with his ambiguous morals and stern demeanor keeping him a very believable, restrained character that steals most of his scenes. Ashton Sanders is very good as another sorta-lead, Gabriel, and several character actors (Alan Ruck, James Ransone, Kevin Dunn) turn in very layered, realistic performances. It's the performances, really, that come through in the end and make us care. Director Wyatt seems much more interested in focusing on the event and entire system of society under alien oppression, rather than the lives and details of each and every one of his characters. In some ways, this is a detriment, as it makes some payoffs feel very numb and sorta empty. But in other ways (which I will not spoil), the restraint on developing the characters pays off completely, as we manage to attach ourselves to them based solely on subtle performances and small character ticks that recur throughout the film. Some dialogue is admittedly clunky, and again, some emotional weight is removed with some of these character's fates when we hardly know some of their names. However, Rupert Wyatt clearly respects his audience, using visuals and limited information a create a very gloomy, suspenseful atmosphere that consistently kept me on edge. The lack of detail on the alien species and their capabilities puts us in the same position as the human characters -- in the dark, scrambling to make it in this ruthless setting.
This, as well as the numerous other pros and a hefty load of solid social commentary, are enough to redeem CAPTIVE STATE of it's scripting faults and jumbled structure. An enthusiastic 7/10.