Captive State

Mar 19, 2019

Diverting thriller in a weak-movie time of year.

Captive State

Grade: C

Director: Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Screenplay: Erica Beeney (The Battle of Shaker Heights), Wyatt

Cast: Vera Farmiga (Skin), Machine Gun Kelly (Bird Box)

Rating: PG 13

Runtime: 1 hr 49 min

By: John DeSando

Captive State is a sci-fi, dystopian attempt that isn't in the same quality star system as Blade Runner and its ilk. It’s a narrative about the near future (maybe about eight years from now but no tech allowed, so Polaroids are the best they can do) with an alien invasion and fragmented freedom fighters joining in a flawed rebellion, so murky as to be downright puzzling. Clear it is not.

Captive State does have an always reliable John Goodman as Commander William Mulligan, a fitting name for a local watchdog who struggles with both sides of the fight. His role as a law enforcer in a rebel-infested section and with a spineless citizenry is about the only developed character in this wasteland.

If you’re looking to get a sense of who the aliens are, don’t. They appear briefly, resembling at first a hairy Elmo, then later a desert plant with spikes.

The Chicago-occupying alien “legislators” have demanded and received full compliance around the world to the tune of disbanded armies and full fealty from earth quislings who control the passive earthlings. This tyranny is best expressed at a big rally where an Amazon-like beauty sings the alien-friendly version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Yet this lack of aliens, who are not on the surface but mostly under the earth, allows writer/director Rupert Wyatt a concentration on the fighters, which he and co-writer Erica Beeney valiantly try but with limited success because there are too many characters too slimly developed. The ever-enchanting Vera Farmiga as a madam working the underground with her business is in only a few scenes that don’t do justice to her relationship with the rebels and bureaucrats, especially Mulligan.

I don’t doubt the filmmakers wished its sci-fi to be an allegory about our own authoritarian-leaning, colonizing world; they just don’t let that intriguing rendition get traction amid the confusion of images and operatives.  Although like me, you’ll eventually get the gist.

The cheap CGI, dark settings, absent occupiers, and Focus Features’ canceling the critics’ screening might give you a hint that this is neither a coherent thriller nor a classic.

Yet, it’s that weak-movie time of year when even this sci-fi is welcome, imperfect as it is.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at