A family carves out a simple, isolated life on the red planet until everything is turned on its head. Perhaps they’re not alone anymore? The strong cast in Settlers isn’t enough to overcome some bizarre narrative choices.
In a desolate settlement on Mars, a father (Jonny Lee Miller), mother (Sofia Boutella) and their daughter Remmy (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince) appear to be the only inhabitants. They live a tough but relatively calm life raising pigs and somehow enough food to live off. Survival seems to be the aim, together with a guitar-led family singalong every now and again. But one morning following an overheard argument, an ominous message has been left for the family. Over the next decade, Remmy has to come to terms with the resulting upheaval to her life and begins to question everything she has previously been told.
Despite the poster work suggesting something quite action-filled, the mood of Settlers is closer to Moon rather than something like Star Wars. But any further comparisons with successful futuristic movies ends here.
The film is split into three chapters, each one belonging to a key person in Remmy’s life. The first one shares a sliver of promise and feels as though it’s tiptoeing around something interesting. But there’s playing your cards close to your chest and then there’s pretending you have cards to play when you actually have none at all.
Writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller’s debut feature gives little away in its first act but it turns out that this is because minimal thought has been given to any exposition. And so when our main characters begin to disappear there is nothing left to hold the interest. We even lose Brooklynn Prince as she grows up to become Nell Tiger Free. The audience picks up snippets of backstory which don’t really add up to enough to make much sense. A bit of intrigue and a delayed reveal is one thing, but this never fully gets to its point.
However, the nail in the coffin is a highly questionable (to put it mildly) turn of events in the third act which made me wonder exactly what type of film I was watching at all. It’s extremely ill-advised and leaves a nasty taste, which is not what the rest of the narrative has provided.
The vistas, filmed in South Africa and coloured to look more Martian, are beautiful, and the design of the living space allows for huge views through the windows. I wish that had been my lasting memory.