Written and directed by Wyatt Rockefeller in his feature directorial debut, mankind’s earliest settlers on the Martian frontier do what they must to survive the cosmic elements and each other. Starring: Sofia Boutella, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Brooklynn Prince, Nell Tiger Free and Jonny Lee Miller.
Settlers very quickly sets that classic atmosphere of isolation and fear that goes along with its Martian setting. It’s intensely secluded, not just in the location but the feel of the film, especially as it progresses and starts to forget the potential danger that lies beyond the ridge. Which is potentially its biggest problem, it chose to focus so much on these few characters that there isn’t room for other elements to bring in different energies and a bigger variety of tone. The directorial style is familiar of other films of its genre, the colour is of course a lot of red, it’s stark, modern and minimalist. However, it doesn’t have a strong enough cinematography to give it a more impactful air, it doesn’t widen your eyes or spark your curiosity, it’s fairly standard.
The story doesn’t have a lot to add to improve that, again it’s very restrictive and contained, it’s an overly consistent focus on its characters, that doesn’t give itself the space to explore, ironically. It’s the same with the characters themselves they don’t necessarily feel two-dimensional but at the same time they’re all remaining mostly on the same note, which doesn’t let them build larger, more complex personalities. It’s an aspect that’s keenly reflected by the transition to an older Remmy, there’s no real evolution of her character. Boiling it down, if you’re someone who wants a story that’s going to give you answers, this is probably not for you because it’s on the vague side and likes to hint at something larger which it never reaches. It doesn’t hold a big enough emotional depth to really dive into the more complicated issues that it’s exposing.
Again, the actors here can only do so much when they’re not being given the material to really delve into these characters and the more emotionally diverse issues. Sofia Boutella is a strong actress but this role gives her almost nothing to work with, it’s almost entirely one-note and cliched of angry, overly protective mother. There are moments down the line that point towards a deeper mental health conversation but it’s short lived to say the least. Brooklynn Prince however has an extra edge as a child, she can let her emotions out more explicitly and she’s much more sympathetic and kind, whereas the rest of the characters are all extremely disillusioned. It’s a shame to see her go but Nell Tiger Free does do her justice, it’s solid even though the character retreats into her shell and begins to become much more like her mother.
It’s also a shame Jonny Lee Miller doesn’t get to be more involved, he’s a hugely underrated actor and could have had so much more to add to this film. Ismael Cruz Cordova arguably provides the most interesting performance, he has a lot more layers than the rest, even though he is also slightly restricted, they give him more of a back story and intrigue but ultimately let him down in the end with something more simplistic.
Settlers begins on sincerely confident footing, it creates a solid atmosphere and feels familiar yet new but as time goes on it never goes outside of its own bubble and restricts itself too strongly. It does try to start a conversation about family, loneliness, survival and its consequences but it lacks a depth to have anything tangible to add. There was also the opportunity for something more invigorating or touching but it misses out. There’s something to be said of what Rockefeller attempted to do here, especially as a feature debut but it closed itself off too severely to explore its full potential.