Every good science fiction classic has had either an adorable kid that needs protecting, a lovable robot that is built for inspecting (the crew and the alien terrain, that is), or a shot of an object floating in space transitioning to a shot of an inanimate object that shows the evolution of man — Settlers utilizes all three classic movie elements, weaving a quietly masterful melodrama that brings life to the film’s barren, Martian setting. Written and directed by Wyatt Rockefeller, Settlers will be making its online world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival under the Feature Films category.
Settlers is not quite intense, but its ominous musical score creates a tense atmosphere, one that matches the tumultuous relationship between the film’s primary characters. As the tension builds between the characters, the film turns into a bit of a suspense thriller by its end, covering the full range of emotions — from love, to melancholy, to rage — along the way. This range of emotion is portrayed in absolutely magnetic performances from each cast member — starring the likes of Sofia Boutell (Star Trek Beyond), Brooklynn Prince (slightly more grownup from her appearance in The Florida Project (2018)), Nell Tiger Free (Game of Thrones), and Ismael Cruz Córdova (The Undoing) in a knockdown, drag-out performance.
In the film, a small family — father Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), mother Ilsa (Sofia Boutell), and daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince), — moves into an abandoned compound in the wilds of Mars, lucky to have found such a resourceful home after surviving a natural disaster on Earth. When outsiders begin to harass them and take over their home, the family initially resists but eventually acquiesces to Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova), the surviving leader of the outsiders who claims they’ve stolen his mother’s home. As time passes and they learn to cohabitate, personal bonds form and the possibility of escape seems as far away as Earth.
Settlers stands out from typical, action-packed space sagas by its quiet approach, feeling more like a melodrama with hostage plot points than an obvious science fiction thriller. Though the dialogue does take great care to frequently reference the isolated, other-world background and setting, Settlers did not necessarily feel like a sci-fi film by action or aesthetics beyond the barren landscape, and really, the film could have just as easily been set in the middle of nowhere on earth, even with the robot. The world not being as fleshed out as possible to make the setting believable is saved by the introduction of the robot character, and though he is under-utilized for the majority of the film, this character/special effect brought legitimacy to the film and tied the characters together like an extraterrestrial glue.
An unconventional science fiction film that had just enough thrills to balance out the frequent verbal silence and the melodrama, Settlers was like a palate cleanser for science fiction films, offering a more subdued approach in activating the aforementioned three key science fiction elements, but still managing to produce a well-thought-out saga that effortlessly spanned time and space.
MOVIE RATING — 6.75 out of 10