Captive State

Released a few days ago, the official teaser for Focus Features’ Captive State feels primed as one part alien invasion movie with a healthy dash of vaguely political commentary. Indeed, it’s hard not to think of the much-ballyhooed American Space Force when watching this trailer. According to the official synopsis, Captive State is set in a Chicago neighbourhood after almost ten years of occupation by an alien force. What promises to propel the film is the conflict between those who comply and those who resist. Again, it is hard not to draw parallels to the political moment south of Trailaurality’s Canadian border when there is an entire coalition of American voters who identify on social media as the de facto, capital-R Resistance. This being said, we’re here for the music and sound, and there is much to say on this front as well.

A micro-teaser opens the video with unique work of sonic design that will be revisited at the end of the trailer. Although we have yet been able to readily identify the composer or studio, we know that large swathes of the regular trailer score are taken from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” set of violin concerti. It is, pardon the pun, a perennial piece for all seasons in TV and film alike, ranging from The Simpsons to The Secret Life of Pets. Elsewhere, Max Richter (Recomposed, 2012) and Anna Meredith (ANNO: Four Seasons, 2018) have both extensively interwoven Vivaldi’s famous concerti into their own compositional tapestries. It’s a piece that is both ripely known, but not beyond plucking for one’s own purposes, as Captive State does. 

The mysteriousness and emotional ambiguity that marks the opening of Captive State, especially for those who may not be apprised of the film’s title before viewing, help to complement the Orwellian voiceover, stating that “the state of our union is strong”; that “unemployment is the lowest in history” (again, reminiscent of some certain boastful statements by a certain prominent Twitter user and government official), and so on, describing a utopian paradise, taken at face value. Still, the ever-descending strings in the minor key suggest a chilling, subversive type of orderliness that hides the true cost of its surface orderliness. At forty seconds in, we see a woman holding a tablet, perhaps suggesting that what we were watching up to know was what she was in fact viewing, slightly blurring the lines of diegesis. 

A montage follows as the violin picks up to rapid arpeggiate the chord progression in sixteenths in its triple meter. Small glitches of static in the visuals and audio come to the fore at exactly a minute in as “let us give thanks,” a biblical allusion perhaps to the Prayer of Thanksgiving, turns to “give thanks” – subtly turned to a command statement, and only circumstantially because it becomes clear that there is a “broken record” effect at play and the message, much like the alien regime of this film is obviously corrupted. Note how the last time “give thanks” is stated, it is performatively different – it is whispered, not a repeat, subverting our expectations once more, in a disturbing manner.

At 1:10, a montage of increasingly disturbing imagery accompanied by an announcer at a football stadium is interrupted by a reveal of the mothership with an awe-inspiring sonic attack across the spectrum, a deep bass and jet-engine like sound giving heft and weight to the visual of the spacecraft gradually but mercilessly taking over the entire shot. Exceptionally, the crescendo at the end does not lead to a diegetic catchphrase or call to action. Instead, it simply ends with a card for the film’s release, in March 2019, allowing the sound to hold the last word, narratively speaking.

This first trailer for Captive Stateemploys a number of tricks to keep the audioviewer guessing as to the source and function of the narration with the intent of disturbing; similarly, the merging of the familiar violin thoroughfare of Vivaldi with contemporary sonic design, upended and supplanted by the monstrous noise at the end, work in tandem with the reveal of the spacecraft. They successfully convey a keen sense of the dystopian state – not identified by how outlandish the scenario is, but in its aural details, how helplessly plausible it all feels as a meta-commentary on the political moment.

– Curtis Perry