VOD film review: Settlers
Bianca Garner | On 30, Jul 2021
Director: Wyatt Rockefeller
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Jonny Lee Miller, Brooklynn Prince, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Nell Tiger Free
Where to watch Settlers online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
As they say, space is the final frontier. There’s something so unnerving about the concept of living on an alien planet, all alone and isolated from the rest of humanity. Settlers explores the themes of isolation and humanity, and is a solid sci-fi thriller from writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller. Although there are some issues with pacing and a few plot holes, Settlers is for the most part a very entertaining, slow-burning film with a tremendous performance from Brooklynn Prince. Settlers is worth seeking out for Prince’s performance alone, as well as the film’s well-crafted production design and cinematography.
Prince plays Remy, a young girl who lives with her mother, Isla (Sofia Boutella), and her father, Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), on their farm in what appears to be a barren desert. We soon discover that they are, in fact, residing on Mars. They appear to be the only three people (along with their pet robot, Steve, and a few farm animals) who have made the red planet their home. At first, things appear to be relatively normal. Reza does most of the manual work around their settlement and protects the family by patrolling their border. Isla spends her time tending to more domestic duties. Remy seems content enough with her life, but is slightly frustrated that she can’t help her father more. Rockefeller does well to introduce us to these three main characters and set up the relationships between them. However, the peace and harmony don’t last for long, as we soon discover that the family are being tormented by three strangers who leave them a message in pig’s blood demanding that they leave.
The situation escalates when the strangers attack the family in the dead of night. This is where Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova) enters the story. Jerry is determined to take back the farm after it’s discovered that Isla and Reza had stolen it from Jerry’s own family. After a fight, Jerry takes command of the farm and becomes the dominant male in Remy and Isla’s lives. The tension continues to build as their relationship develops and Remy seeks escape from the settlement, only to discover that the prospect of escape is harder than it first seems.
The film has many enjoyable and noteworthy aspects. Firstly, the world-building is highly intriguing. The mystery of what has happened to cause people to settle on Mars is a great way to hook in the viewer. The opening 10 minutes are full of suspense and dread, and both Boutella and Lee Miller are given plenty of material to work with. The relationship between Remy and Reza is beautifully set up and the character’s emotional journey is beautifully portrayed by Prince. Boutella also delivers a great performance as her character battles with grief and anger. Cordova’s character is also interesting and well-developed, as he transforms from being a threat to becoming a surrogate father of sorts to Remy. However, the romantic/sexual relationship between Jerry and Isla feels forced and doesn’t exactly evolve naturally.
The film was shot in a secluded location in South Africa and it truly looks like the events are taking place on Mars. The run-down, lived-in settlement along with the character’s well-worn outfits are a great way to show how hard their lives have been trying to build and continue running the settlement. It is also worth mentioning the performance from Nell Tiger Free, however her screen-time is very limited, which seems a waste of her talent.
It’s clear that Rockefeller has been heavily influenced by a range of sci-fi films from the likes of Silent Running, The Martian, Lost in Space and Moon. And, while it’s good to refer to other science fiction, at certain points this hinders the film in terms of its own originality. There are certain points where the story feels very predictable, and there are a few major plot holes which will leave you scratching your head. Another issue occurs in the final act involving some sexualised violence, which will leave some viewers very uncomfortable.
Overall, Settlers manages to keep the viewer invested for two thirds of its runtime, but doesn’t seem to be able to maintain its initial thrill and suspense. It’s worth watching for Prince’s impressive performance as well as the solid supporting cast. However, fans of sci-fi may feel this is treading all too familiar ground.