Captive State trailer

Captive State is a sci-fi thriller that moves like clockwork. Director Rupert Wyatt‘s film always maintains its propulsion without any redundancies or large chunks of tedious exposition. Like the characters trying to start an uprising in a world dominated by aliens, Wyatt and co-writer Erica Beeney always keep their story moving. Compared to other bloated or gigantic alien invasion movies, Captive State is a refreshingly minimalist and stripped down sci-fi movie.

Similar to Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there’s a sense of grounding and familiarity that doesn’t make it too hard to suspend one’s disbelief and buy into this world. It’s so grounded, in fact, Beeney and Wyatt often looked to history for inspiration. Beeney, who previously wrote the Project Greenlight movie The Battle of Shaker Heights, recently told us about some of Captive State‘s influences, whether it’s a political film, and writing a surprisingly empathetic antagonist.

When you have a story with this many characters and moving pieces and a world to build, where do you begin?

It’s interesting actually, because there was just a screening we had last night. It was the first time in a couple of months that I had seen the movie, and it was so great, and in a way, almost surprising to me how much every scene is threaded with so many details. Paying attention to how they come together that makes the whole, even that was kind of like, “My god, this is a lot of work,” but I did it! [Laughs]

Basically the process was – I don’t know how other people go about constructing intricate plots like this – but what we did was a little bit forward, a little bit backward. Meaning we knew certain global things that we definitely wanted to do starting out, and then we started layering in pieces in between, but then even after the first rough cut and then showing it to an audience, or a couple of friends and family and getting feedback where they said, “Oh yeah, we totally understood what this piece is saying, but what we didn’t understand was this.” And you sort of go, “Okay, I see,” so we know this piece needs clarifying. We need to bring that up in the mix, and we need to lay another breadcrumb to emphasize this part and take away the breadcrumbs that have already done too much work. It was really starting with an idea and then getting feedback to see how closely we are to where we want to get to with it.

What elements of the story maybe took extra refining and clarification? 

Well, I would say that…I think we always approached it with this idea that we weren’t taking sides, if that makes sense. That we wanted to tell a story of people under occupation and the choices that you are forced to make in those situations and make choices as difficult for the characters as possible. And sort of show, hopefully, the humanity on all sides of those choices and trying to take the notion of good guys and bad guys…It was a real effort to try and maintain that neutrality with each of the main characters, if that makes sense. Yeah, to sort of try and show them all in their fullness, so that certain moments you really understand them, and at other moments you really don’t like the choices they are making.

Even though he’s making very unethical choices, I was surprised by how empathetic John Goodman’s character was throughout the movie, and him probably not wanting the whole world to get destroyed because of the group.

I’m so glad that that was what you felt, ’cause that was what we were going for. We were trying to understand – getting to the mind of someone who had collaborate and say, okay, how would a good person justify those choices that on the surface seem very not okay? And you’re right, he would say for the greater good of my neighborhood or there’s a line, “We shoot our own dogs,” and it’s the notion of that kind of honor, this farmer’s honor, like if my dog’s sick, no one but me is going take my dog out back and put my dog down.

It’s very impressive how Goodman makes an antagonist who’s very silent that empathetic and expressive. With [his character] Mulligan, did you and Wyatt want to rely on silence as much as possible?

Yeah. I think we were both really inspired by those certain ’70s, really minimalist kind of thrillers, and I always was impressed with how much you could do with as little as possible. I learned in writing you sort of write a scene and you put in all the dialogue that you think need to be there and then if you’ve done a good job with the mechanics of the storytelling, nine times out of ten, you don’t [need as] much of the dialogue. You sort of go into the process knowing that, if that makes sense.

It does. Captive State is not a political film, but like those ’70s movies, based on whatever a moviegoer brings to it, they could politicize it or draw parallels to today. How much did you want to reflect the modern world? Would you be happy if someone saw it as a political film?

I think that your parallel to those ’70s movies is exactly right, but when I think about The Parallax View or Manchurian Candidate or whatever, I think it’s the political in the sense that there suggestible about people’s motivation in politics and in power in general, and I sort of think of it more that way. I don’t think that there’s sort of that partisan political message the way more common today. I mean, I hope and I like to think that it is more that notion of bring truth to power, constantly scrutinize the social framework as it exists and be skeptical of it. And if this movie was a super pleasurable experience for people that also got that out of it and came out of it sort of seeming more critical of the information that was said every day, I think that would be a good thing.

I also wonder if some people tend to politicize movies because politics are weighing heavier on their minds now.

Yeah, totally. No, I mean I think it’s very interesting. We just [read] a couple of posts where somebody said, and it’s all questions all based on the trailer online or something, so of course it’s not the full good view, but one person says, “Oh, propaganda against everything that make America great,” and then some of the people saying, “Oh, this is a great take down of the libtards” or whatever.

YouTube comments?

Yeah, exactly. You don’t want to go too deep in those. You see it through whatever lens, whatever goggles you’ve got on, right? I wish we could all take the goggle off for a minute, but that seems hard in this day and age, doesn’t it?

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