Captive State (2019)

I like this one.

The aliens came.  We couldn’t stop them.

Their superior technology forced us to surrender and it is now a decade later: they’ve been running everything ever since, with the human “Unity” government forced to do their will; everyone implanted with an organic ID “chip” and tracker; and human agents carrying out their wishes and enforcing their laws.

What follows is a rather large and complex film, as the resistance plots to strike a serious blow against the alien invaders; Police Detective William Mulligan (John Goodman) tries to unravel the clues leading to a secret insurgency that no one else believes in; and Rafe Drummond (Ashton Sanders), whose brother died in the last attack on the alien’s walled stronghold, is trying to find some way to escape his drab existence.

It is, in fact, intriguing to find an alien invasion film where the aliens only make a few appearances and we never really get a good look at them, where the bulk of the story is about how people have dealt with the continued occupation.  There’ve been a few alien occupation films, but they are rare, and off hand I can’t think of any that have adopted a structure like a Seventies political thriller, alternating between two main storylines, with a few sideplots involving minor characters.

A lot of people have found it to be too big and too complicated, with too many characters to keep track of.  I didn’t have much trouble doing so, however, except for a moment when Rafe abruptly vanishes from the story for a fairly long time, and it follows another character who resembles him, wearing an almost identical hoodie.  It took me some time to sort that out, although it may have been clearer on the big screen.

I suppose there’s meant to be some sort of commentary on the Trump Administration here, although I’ll admit that I’m just a touch amused that one of the major setpieces revolves around a classic, Soviet-style rally, with a carefully vetted audience!  So if you can’t stand the President, then you might like these bits, otherwise you can shrug and ignore them, as they really don’t land a glove.

But then, that’s often too true of political commentary.

My biggest gripe, however, is reserved, once again, for the trailers.  There’s a repeated image which gives away the final twist of the story — an image which has also shown up in the print advertising for the film.  I honestly have no idea whether I’d have guessed the ending without it, as there are a number of other clues lying about, but this sort of thing just seems be be getting worse.

This is not a perfect film, but it does make a nice change of pace.  It moves at a more deliberate pace than most films do these days, is more complicated than some viewers will appreciate and does wander off at times.  However, John Goodman gives a fascinating low-key performance, the alien ships and creatures are unique, and there’s always room for an SF film that puts its emphasis on story and characters.

Even if there may be too many of them.

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