The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - SETTLERS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - SETTLERS

settlers review
A family's settlement on Mars receives an unwanted visitor.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Wyatt Rockefeller

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Brooklynn Prince, Jonny Lee Miller, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Nell Tiger Free

settlers poster

In Wyatt Rockefeller's directorial debut Settlers, South Africa stands in for Mars, which stands in for any frontier you might wish to compare it to. It's some point in the future, and the Red Planet has seemingly been colonised in the sparse manner of America's Old West.

A family of three – Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) and their young daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince) – lives a lonely existence on a farm that has been set up to provide their basic needs, including it seems, oxygen, with no masks required to walk around the Martian terrain.

settlers review

One morning our Swiss Family Robinson on Mars awaken to find the word "Leave" scrawled in large letters on their window. Turns out this farm doesn't belong to them, and the rightful heir, Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova), whom they sent packing into the desert as a boy, has returned to claim his family's property.

Forced to kill Reza, Jerry makes a pact with Ilsa and Remmy. They can stay on the farm if they promise not to bother him. He won’t cause them any harm, and he'll even protect them.

Protect them from what exactly becomes the key question. Just what is beyond the farm's borders is one of several ambiguities that go frustratingly unanswered. The South African desert sure looks like how we might imagine the landscape of the Red Planet, and Rockefeller and cinematographer Willie Nel give us compositions straight out of 1950s sci-fi magazines. But the greater world never feels convincing here. One would assume if Mars is to be colonised it will be Earth's aristocracy who get a ticket to the planet. None of the characters here seem to fall into that category, so are we to believe that rather than say, colonial Kenya with its rich British settlers, the Mars posited here is akin to colonial Australia, essentially a prison planet? The second option seems most likely but no clues are offered either way.

settlers review

Once Jerry shows up the movie plays a lot like those many post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies where the last man and woman left on the planet contend with the darker urges of human nature. Ilsa acquiesces quickly to Jerry's pawing demands, suggesting she's doing so either to protect her daughter or because Jerry is offering something her husband wasn't providing. Or was Reza just another Jerry she eventually got used to? Again, no answer is forthcoming.

Settlers isn't quite gritty enough to fully wallow in its dynamic of lingering sexual threat. A philosophical conundrum of whether a woman should be burdened with continuing the survival of the human species is brought up but quickly moved on from. Jerry never seems quite as ruthless as he should be. Surprisingly, the one thing that the movie isn't ambiguous about is his villainy. Any suggestion that he is to be the film's anti-hero is dismissed as soon as his hands find their way onto his new female companion's flesh.

settlers review

Along with the South African landscape, much of the heavy lifting is done here by Prince, whom you might remember as the kid from The Florida Project. Like one of those kids from classic westerns like Shane, her Remmy learns a lot about adulthood through the arrival of this stranger from the plains. Prince's eyes go a long way to filling in some of the blanks here, but ultimately there are a few too many blanks left gaping by the film's end.

Settlers is in US cinemas and VOD from July 23, UK cinemas and VOD from July 30th.

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