July 24th, 2021
STARRING: BROOKLYN PRINCE, SOFIA BOUTELLA, ISMAEL CRUZ CORDOVA, NELL TIGER FREE, JONNY LEE MILLER
DIRECTED BY: WYATT ROCKEFELLER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
I’ve often said this, but there’s nothing more disappointing in cinema than a wasted science fiction film. It’s arguably the best genre, when done right, especially because the themes are limitless, and because it has more intellect than the typical narratives. Settlers is the directorial debut for Wyatt Rockefeller, where he has all the material, the setting, and the tone right, it’s just that the final product is a miserable existence on a lonely planet. That makes it hard to recommend. Settlers involves a family of three (Jonny Lee Miller, Sofia Boutella, and Brooklyn Prince), living on Mars, on their small little martian farm. How or when they got there is not the focus, but what becomes evident is that where they live is a coveted location, especially by the few other humans that inhabit the planet. The peaceful little home is disrupted by a couple, which the father protects at all cost, but when he decides to bring the fight to them, it leaves the mother and daughter alone in their pods, fearing for their lives. It’s a fine set up, but nothing gains any joy, none of the story has anything to live for, and because of that, Settlers delivers a dusty and desolate sci-fi picture. It looks good, sure, but Settlers makes living on Mars look just as miserable as living on earth.
The screenplay is also written by Rockefeller, where the narrative is split into three parts. The opening segment is titled Reza (Johnny Lee Miller), who is the father, has a provider mentality, often teaching his daughter Remmy (Prince) who takes care of their pigs on the farm, while the mother Ilsa (Boutella) tends to the gardening in their greenhouse. It’s a quiet existence, but the three of them seem to have a comfortable, yet minimal life on a planet of their own. That is, we think it’s their own, until we see that the word LEAVE has been painted in blood on their window. This is when it’s revealed that there are other people out there, looking to take over the farm, looking for any advantage to rid this family of their comfortable space home. Reza shoots the attackers, but what’s revealed is that there is more out there, sending Reza off to go find the rest of any potential threats.
After Reza leaves, it’s not long before Remmy and Ilsa must adapt to being on their own, which involves learning to do all the work to keep themselves alive. Much later though, we hear gunshots in the distance, and it’s not Reza that returns to the home, but a mysterious man named Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova). He arrives to take over and attempts to install himself as the new man of the house. It’s a paralysing feeling for Remmy, who becomes cold and distant from the new reality, submerging herself into caring for the pigs, and finding a new robot dog friend that she names Steve. The same isolation can be said for Isla, but in her new sense of loneliness, she eventually succumbs to the charm of Jerry, which creates a complicated dynamic of what it means to be alone on a planet, especially when one of the people you’re stuck with killed your husband.
It’s the second act where Settlers loses all of its energy and my general interest. The sets are well put together, looking like a mixture of The Martian and Duncan Jones’ Moon, where the atmosphere mimics the red planet, while the space living quarters are minimalist. It’s the narrative that drags the audience through the mud. Nothing about this story is pleasant, where the existence of Jerry becomes a dark cloud, as a person who asks for the sympathy of Remmy and Isla, but deserves none of it. His treatment towards the mother and child is sociopathic; And the overall conflict of the living quarters would be more thrilling, but the two main characters are powerless without weapons to defend themselves, and still running out of time living with an awful person. Settlers is too much of a waiting game and that’s what makes the dynamic uncomfortably boring.
That’s not to say that director Wyatt Rockefeller doesn’t have potential, in fact the visuals of Settlers is exceptional, on an independent budget level. Even the ending, however, is as miserable as the rest of Settlers, leaving a nasty taste in the mouth as well. It’s the flaws of Settlers that makes you appreciate the attention to detail in the script of a movie such as The Midnight Sky, which at least had you caring for all the characters involved and the relationship that George Clooney’s character creates on an isolated planet. There’s plenty of potential that remains in the work of Rockefeller and Settlers might have succeeded with a bigger budget, but for now it’s best to leave this science fiction effort far behind.
SETTLERS IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND JULY 23RD
Written by: Leo Brady