If movies are any indicator, the future is going to suck. Most of the time the future is portrayed as a hellish landscape where humanity has pretty much “f”’ed itself in the “b,” and is dumpster-diving for survival, or enslaved by robots, aliens or alien robots. Even in potentially uplifting scenarios, when we end up exploring the vastness of the unknown universe, we end up embroiled in intergalactic conflicts that will leave the vast majority of intelligent life decimated by the end of act three.
My point is: There really isn’t a lot of uplifting science fiction. In the real world, technology is helping the paralyzed walk again with robotic exoskeletons, create self-driving cars and recreate particles responsible for the birth of the universe. In the movie world, exoskeletons are used as murder machines, self-driving cars hunt humans for sport, and the God particles collide to create an alternate universe where dogs own people as pets. “Captive State” continues the cinematic trend of a horrible future for our planet. In this particular dystopia, Earth has been easily conquered by some creepy crawling aliens who have successfully separated society into two groups; those controlled by them under martial law and people willing to do their evil overlord’s bidding to help keep the boot on humanity’s neck.
The movie is set in a near future Chicago, which somehow seems more peaceful under alien rule. Gabriel (Ashton Sanders) tries to live his life in a locked-down metropolis. He works a job uploading data from banned technological devices, like cell phones, into alien mainframes before destroying them. A daily reminder of the simple, carefree lives we used to live before a malevolent alien force came to … pillage our resources? Harvest our organs? Take all our celebrity chefs so we no longer know how to prepare the perfect coq au vin?
The human collaborators are represented by William Mulligan (John Goodman), who attempts to hunt down the resistance that feels woefully outmatched but must be eradicated nonetheless. Something writer/director Rupert Wyatt (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) does well is create a claustrophobic maze for our human rats to endlessly run through. There is a real sense of oppression a lot of movies never manage to successfully achieve. I also have to commend the film for creating consistent tension and turning the screws slowly. There are some effective performances: John Goodman does a great job bringing to life the menacing human face of the alien oppressors. Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”) does an effective job looking consistently befuddled as he dips his toes into the vast network of resistance fighters looking to finally start fighting back.
The major problem with “Captive State” is what isn’t shown. The film picks up 10 years after the aliens have successfully taken over. The occupation already is well-established and only hinted at in the film’s opening. By the end of the film, we have a clear idea of what may happen next, with a little twist and shred of hope for what the future may hold. As a film, it is a little incomplete. Actually, “Captive State” seems like a midseason episode of an interesting sci-fi TV series. We see very interesting middle bits of how the resistance plans on lighting the match that will start a war, but the payoff for lighting it feels like a damp squib.
There isn’t anything necessary to “Captive State,” cinematically speaking. It’s a piece of a much larger tale with storytelling vacancies that come from a product of a modest budget rather than being excised for creative reasons. There is credence to the creative endeavor “less is more,” but “Captive State” is a film where “less” just feels, well, less.