Those old enough to remember the 1980s TV miniseries V, or diligent enough to seek it out (and overlook the meandering remake of the 2000s), would be familiar with the ground covered in Captive State.

The new sci-fi thriller directed and co-written by Rupert Wyatt (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – the first of the recent trilogy) is about life in one Chicago neighbourhood in a world that has been subjugated by alien invaders.

While the majority of humanity struggles and an illusion of peace and benevolent rule is maintained, an elite few collaborate with the extraterrestrial “Legislators” to enrich themselves even further.

It’s a familiar setting not only to genre fans, having been explored in numerous wartime dramas as well.

And where there are collaborators and the exploited/struggling masses, you will also find resistance, of course.

Captive State takes a really up-close, ant’s eye-view of the whole occupation-by-aliens scenario, much like Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds remake did with a massive-scale alien invasion (only on a much smaller budget here).

captive state

The extras had no clue that the film they were hired for was actually a remake of Picnic At Hanging Rock … emphasis on the hanging rock.

Key figures include Detective William Mulligan (John Goodman, still channelling that low-key menace from a place on Cloverfield Lane), who is working hard to uncover a plot by the resistance ahead of a key “unity rally” to celebrate the, um, collaboration between visitors and humankind.

Mulligan believes that Gabriel Drummond (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders) will lead him to the freedom fighters, simply because the lad’s brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) was part of an earlier resistance plot to blow up stuff.

It all seems a bit obsessive, though Mulligan himself is shown to have some seamy leanings, particularly in his reluctant dalliances with an unnamed prostitute (Vera Farmiga).

There are reasons for the obsessiveness; one side is playing a long game here. And, although Captive State tries to reserve its big reveals for its final few minutes, a couple of unnecessary scenes (I’m looking at you, mysterious floral-patterned gift box) only serve to telegraph what could have been a cleverly set-up finale.

The familiarity of the setting and situations works both for and against the film.

On the down side, Captive State does not bring anything new to the table and stays so close to formula that it lacks any real surprises.

The film is also overflowing with characters, many of them given just about a minute for us to vaguely figure out their circumstances and motivations.

The lack of any real discourse about the occupation, even among principal players like Mulligan, Gabriel and Farmiga’s Jane Doe, does not provide much room to explore the real convictions of the resistance or the supposed heinousness of the collaborators.

Perhaps, by not breaking away much from the established pattern of such scenarios, Wyatt and co-writer Erica Beeney expect us to just accept that this is the way things are. But human motivations are not so easily pigeonholed, are they?

On the plus side, I liked that the filmmakers have enough confidence in the audience that they don’t spoon-feed everything to us.

captive state

‘Can you believe the city is actually less polluted now, after the aliens invaded?’

It’s left to viewers to piece things together from snatches of conversation or exposition earlier on, or even the smallest of visual cues.

The execution of the big resistance plan is also nicely pulled off, like a slick Danny Ocean heist … minus the levity, of course.

All things considered, the movie has more good intentions than fumbles. It holds your attention well enough, but a little more focus on its key characters and themes would have left its captive audience in a more appreciative state.

Captive State

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga, Alan Ruck, Kevin J. O’Connor, Kevin Dunn