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Movie Review

Don’t you hate it when guests come over and they just won’t leave?

Yeah, welcome to Earth in the not-so-distant future. Nine years previous, an alien species set down on terra firma and announced it was taking over: No war necessary, no messy conflict required. Humanity hesitated a bit, but soon handed over civilization’s keys.: Given the aliens’ superior firepower (and their spikey, skinlike outfits), there wasn't much else we could do. Plus, it’s not like things on the planet were going swimmingly before our new "guests" arrived.

But not everyone welcomed their new hedgehog overlords. A handful of rebels in Chicago tried to, y’know, rebel¬—mounting an attack on the aliens’ very restricted underground compound. And while their first attempt failed miserably, they’ve not lost the gumption to try again.

Gabriel Drummond plays a small part in the rebellion’s newest offensive. You could say it runs in the family: His older brother, Rafe, led the rebellion last time out. Now his picture's plastered on walls everywhere in the more neglected sections of Chicago. (Which is most of them these days.)

Rafe was a martyr for the cause, and while Gabriel might be proud of his big bro, he doesn’t want to follow Rafe to an early obituary. Gabriel’s a messenger, nothing more, trying to earn enough money to escape Chicago with his girlfriend and start a new life, as far away from the alien power center as possible.

But William Mulligan, an ambitious police commander, has his eye on Gabriel. Several of them, actually. He’s got a camera in Gabriel’s apartment. He accesses thousands of others all around the city. And then, of course, there’s the tracking device—a literal, living bug that Gabriel (along with everyone else) has embedded near his neck. The kid’s as easy to follow as a big, dotted line painted on the pavement.

Sure, William may not know exactly what Gabriel’s up to. But the cop knows that the kid’s connected somehow to the rebellion, now operating under the name of Phoenix. And the ambitious policeman, with an eye on moving up the force’s alien-funded ladder, has designs on bringing down the rebellion for good.

Positive Elements

Is it good to fight extraterrestrial aliens? You betcha! I mean, they’re taking all our stuff in Captive State! We can’t have that, can we? And in the context of the movie’s desperate struggle, plenty of folks risk, and sometimes lose, their lives trying to reclaim humanity's independence.

Spiritual Content

For the most part, the aliens like hanging out in their underground compounds. But sometimes they make public appearances. And when a massive rally is held in their honor by the alien-controlled government and thousands of folks who support their cosmic landlords (they’re called “legislators” these days), the spikey beings show up.

As part of the rally, a high school band “reinacts” first contact, featuring an angel-like being at its center. Instead of singing the National Anthem, a singer breaks out into “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord/He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored …”

It’s an interesting selection: Perhaps the rally’s organizers intended to reflect the near-deified awe the legislators like to think that they inspire. But the hymn—written during the Civil War by an abolitionist—also hints at righteous war against oppression and slavery.

The rebellion pulled the name Phoenix from Greek mythology, of course, referencing a bird that would die in a spectacular immolation, only to rise again from the ashes. One of the rebellion's leaders—presumed dead—embodies that spirit. Indeed, we see him crawl from a trap door set in the altar of a ruined church. His waiting compatriot quips, “I always did believe in life after death.”

We hear about a member of Phoenix who was an “ex-priest from St. Anthony’s.” We should note that Rafe’s full name is Raphael, which means that both of the Drummond boys were named after angels.

Sexual Content

The first time we see Gabriel, it’s through William’s surveillance camera, and he's having sex with his girlfriend. (We see movements under the covers.) Later, the young woman takes a shower (where we see her from the shoulders up and, afterwards, wrapped in a towel). In another scene, she encourages Gabriel to go to bed with her again, but he doesn’t have time.

William frequents a prostitute. We hear her called a number of crude descriptors, and we see her in relatively modest-but-still-seductive lingerie in a few scenes. They kiss a bit and dance, and the woman asks William to “come to bed.” He says no, telling her that it’s wrong … but it seems clear by context that he’s no stranger to her boudoir. We later hear conversations between her and a bevy of other johns.

A man taking part in the rebellion works at what seems to be a gay nightclub, where he wears makeup and a leather drag outfit. He changes into a more standard suit and coat for an operation, but still sports black nailpolish.

Violent Content

Sure, the aliens wanted control of the Earth with a minimum of fuss, but we humans are a fussy bunch.

We see a family try to escape from Chicago when the creatures first invaded nine years before. The fleeing clan encounters a few aliens, who sort of vaporize the adults in the front seat of their car (the now-broken windshield is coated in a gorily suggestive pink spray), leaving the kids in the back physically (if not emotionally) unharmed.

Most of the aliens (humanoid in shape) wear protective, skin-like suits (or perhaps husks) covered in furry spikes which rise when the creatures feel threatened or angry (almost like what you’d see on a pufferfish). Aliens sometimes attack people with their spikey arms and legs and whatnot: One shoots spikes into a victim’s torso (like a porcupine), which the victim later pulls painfully (and bloodily) from the wound. In another melee, a human grabs the “face” of an alien and tears off its protective husk, revealing a pale, gasping thing underneath. (It dies, apparently unable to deal with Earth’s atmosphere.)

Tracking bugs—writhing larval-like things—are grotesquely cut out of bodies (and sometimes stuck into waiting rats). The procedure looks (and sounds) quite painful; one person wears a big bandage in the aftermath until someone tells her to take it off.

People are shot and sometimes killed. Others get thrown around and sometimes off of things. Another person gets vaporized. Rebels are given poison capsules and promise each other they won’t be taken alive. We see one rebel take that capsule: The gasp and choked groan suggest that it’s a quick, but not easy, way to die. Other people apparently kill themselves: We see the aftermath of many of the suicides. One lifeless person lies on a sidewalk, for instance, while another slumps in a bathtub. Lots of folks die for what they consider to be a worthy war against alien oppression.

A bloodied, half-naked man hangs from a beam in an interrogation facility—his face bearing lots of wounds and his bare chest covered in blood. Police sometimes beat suspects or even innocent people they round up, and one such person sports a black eye from the abuse.

The city bears lots of scars from previous human-alien conflicts. Two bombs go off, though all viewers see is a flash of light and, sometimes, people running and screaming in the aftermath. Two men get into a scrum, broken up by police. Some criminals and malcontents are rounded up by aliens and, apparently, sent off-world for who knows what sort of punishment.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear two fully voiced f-words, along with one or two other partial uses. The s-word is uttered at least six times. We also hear “b--ch,” “b--tard,” “d--n” and “h---.” God’s name is paired with “d--n” twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

People smoke, but the most critical cigarette we see isn’t ever lit. It contains a cryptic message in its folds; when it’s rolled, Gabriel sticks it behind his ear and takes it to some higher-ups in Phoenix.

Other Negative Elements

Any good, secret rebellion will need to engage in a certain amount of subterfuge, and we certainly see that here. Lots of folks lie and mislead to reach their goals.

We also see a human or two side with the aliens for obviously selfish reasons, hoping to be aligned with the winning side when the visitors are done stripping the planet clean. The police here are not to be trusted, and with reason. Some people steal stuff.


This movie probably looked smarter on paper.

Captive State is more of a complicated espionage mystery/thriller than your typical sci-fi blastfest. Its makers spend silos full of time showing us how the rebellion operates in the shadows. And with John Goodman and Vera Farmiga as critical members of the cast, you’d think it’d have the pedigree to pull it off.

But alas, the story’s too clever by half and too dumb by a third, and the film is further fractioned by plenty of unfortunate content. This flick's pretty bloody, pretty profane and pretty suggestive, and all that makes for a not-so-pretty viewing experience.

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Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



John Goodman as William Mulligan; Ashton Sanders as Gabriel Drummond; Jonathan Majors as Rafe Drummond; Vera Farmiga as Jane Doe; Kevin Dunn as Commissioner Eugene Igoe; James Ransone as Patrick Ellison; Alan Ruck as Charles Rittenhouse; Madeline Brewer as Rula; Machine Gun Kelly as Jurgis; Kevin J. O'Connor as Kermode; Ben Daniels as Daniel


Rupert Wyatt ( )


Focus Features



Record Label



In Theaters

March 15, 2019

On Video

June 11, 2019

Year Published



Paul Asay

Content Caution

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