Low on budget but high on stakes, Captive State is a masterful science fiction effort, tightly directed by a visionary Rupert Wyatt, and featuring some first class actors, brilliant scenes, and a killer soundtrack: if this one slipped under your radar, it's definitely time to change that.
Captive State is a political drama dressed up as science fiction thriller. The premise is simple - one we've seen before: ten years ago, an advanced breed of aggressive aliens reached our planet; resistance was futile and now the Earth is under off-planet rule. From the initial news channel montage, to the dark and gritty opening credits, it would be easy to write off Captive State as yet another derivation of the 'District 9' or 'Attack the Block' brand of realistic sci-fi movies.
What really sets Captive State apart is what happens next. In most 'occupation' sci-fi thrillers, the invaders rule with an iron fist and humans are bound to hide and form scattered group of resistance. In Captive State, there is of course a Resistance, led by Rafe, brother of the protagonist Gabriel, played masterfully by Ashton Sanders of Moonlight fame.
But the regular government and police force are still very much present, and despite strict martial law, humans are not doing that bad after all: unemployment is at a record low, crime has sharply decreased, and humanity seems to have adapted well to the iron rule of their invaders, which have been dubbed the 'Legislators'.
"Before first contact, our political system was broken," shouts the Mayor of Chicago in a propaganda piece - "we were fighting among ourselves in the halls of Congres, and on the streets of this great city. And we needed change."
And change is indeed what we get in the subsequent 90 minutes of the incredibly suspenceful Captive State: as it turns out, the unemployment and economic growth promised by the invaders in exchange for - you guessed it - cooperation and natural resources, is not any different from any colonization effort in history. And if this alien brand of fascism is bound to follow history as well, soon there won't be many humans left to tell this story.
To say anything more about the efforts of the ragtag Resistance to break free of our alien rulers - and to spoil anything about the emotional final minutes of Captive State - would be doing this little gem a disservice. Released in a crowded year for science fiction movies, Captive State slipped under the radar. But it is not - despite its uninspired marketing - yet another derivative 'first contact' story.
No, Captive State is much more. It is a political thriller disguised as sci-fi. It is a brilliant break from big-budget blockbusters for Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt. It is a suspenseful story played out masterfully by an ensemble cast of brilliant actors. And, all things considered, it is a pretty bleak warning for all those who wish to sacrifice freedom and democracy in the name of higher employment or better economic results.
For this, and because it is a pretty good movie to boot, Captive State is a strong recommendation, a valiant addition to Damn Amsterdam's monthly movie short list, and a brilliant reminder that we don't need much to fall into a captive state - with or without off-planet invaders.