Captive State (2019)
Nine years after an alien invasion, humanity has been “unified” under a new order of “Legislators.” Crime is low. Employment is high. War is all but nonexistent. And, you know, every human being has a tracker implanted in their throat so that the Legislators can monitor their activities at all times. But, shockingly enough, not everyone is satisfied with this new arrangement. There is a small resistance group, The Phoenix, operating out of Chicago, who hope to spark a revolt. Over a 24-hour period, several stories, including The Phoenix’s plot to assassinate a group of Legislators, a Chicago PD Officer’s efforts to hunt the group down, and the brother of one of the Phoenix members’ attempts to get out, converge. Do any of them succeed? Watch the movie and find out.
Captive State is a film I want to like. It’s an original, mid-budget sci-fi movie, set and shot in my hometown, Chicago. And yet, I really can’t say that I do, owing to the flick’s many flaws. Now, just to be clear, this isn’t like Alita: Battle Angel or The Kid Who Would Be King, which had problems, particularly with regards to their writing, but were so visually-stunning, well-acted and fun that they were still enjoyable. Say what you will about Alita and Kid’s thinly sketched characters, at least they each had one clear trait, like naivety, cowardice, selfishness, etc. The people in Captive State have no personality at all. Part of this is due to the fact that there’s barely any dialogue, and part of it is due to the fact that we don’t even learn certain characters’ names until after they’ve died. As a result, no one feels like a person. And at least Alita and Kid had clear protagonists. I legitimately don’t know who the main character of Captive State is supposed to be. For the first half, you think it’s Ashton Sanders, the little brother trying to escape Chicago, but then he disappears for a good 20 minutes, and we instead spend time with the rebel group. Without one clear protagonist to focus on, it becomes hard to latch onto anything in the film. Something else that’s very frustrating about this picture is how it wraps up. People have (rightly) criticized Alita for its inconclusive end, and many set-ups for sequels. But at least there you can tell that the filmmakers have a larger story in mind. With Captive State, you don’t get that impression, and it ends super disappointingly, with no one having undergone an arc, and no real change caused to the status quo. And, I hate to say this, but some of the acting, particularly from Ashton Sanders and the guy who plays his brother, is bad. There are moments with the two of them in particular that are supposed to be super serious, and they made me laugh.
Now, with all that said, there are admirable qualities to Captive State. Something that makes this film unique in the canon of alien invasion thrillers is the fact that the aliens really aren’t in it that much. They’re just this ominous, ever-present force that hangs in the air. You never learn where they came from, or why they’re on Earth. They’re just around, and you constantly have to be on the lookout for them. And when they do appear, it’s effective, since the film has sufficiently built them up. Tension is probably what this movie does best, with there being several sequences, including one where the rebels are planting a bomb, one where people are getting their trackers removed, and one involving a police raid on Vera Farmiga’s character’s house, that had me on the edge of my seat. The look of the film is also quite unique. There’s lots of hand-held cameras, newsreel footage, and the whole thing has a very muted color palette. There were points where I was reminded of what Alfonso Cuaron did in Children Of Men, what with the heavy use of grey tones, hand-held tracking shots, and political graffiti. But what the movie actually reminded me of the most was Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle Of Algiers. In case you’ve never heard of it, the movie is a dramatic recreation of moments from the Algerian War for Independence. It’s done in a documentary style, with no clear protagonist, character arcs, heavy use of non-professional actors, and a voiceover explaining the facts of the situation, almost like we’re watching a newsreel. That movie, like Captive State, focuses much more on the process of guerrilla warfare, spending lots of time showing characters building and planting bombs, carrying out assassinations, and so on. In both films, you see people whose names you don’t know carrying out, and living with the consequences of, terrorist acts, which is kind of unique. Granted, Captive State is not as good as Battle Of Algiers, or even Children Of Men. Children Of Men has one clear protagonist, whose perspective we see the entire story through, and the cinematography is much nicer. And Battle Of Algiers is much more memorable with its sequences and score. Still, based on its presentation and tension alone, Captive State is worth a watch. Which puts me in a bit of an odd place. On the one hand, I didn’t really like the film, since it had no real characterization, and the wrap-up is weak. On the other hand, its unique presentation of an alien invasion and its visual style make it an interesting flick to watch. Make of this what you will.