by George Wolf
The settlement in writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller’s feature debut may be on Mars, but it’s his measured treatment of the colony’s constant dangers that allow the story to transcend any specific time and place.
Ilsa (Sofia Boutella), Reza (Jonny Lee Miller) and young Remmy (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince) appear to be the only family on a barren Martian settlement, but then they wake to a giant “LEAVE” written on their front window and the questions begin to stack up.
Why is Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova) staking a claim to their place? What happened to all the other colonists, and how many others are out there lurking, maybe plotting to attack?
And what caused them all to leave Earth in the first place?
Rockefeller is not at all interested in easy answers, instead employing some first-rate performances and stellar production design to evoke a more universal statement on human nature, and more specifically, the often desperate and consistently overlooked role of women in nation building.
It’s a theme given an effective horror treatment in The Wind three years ago, and while the science fiction elements in Settlers are well-played, they’re also subtle enough to never upstage the character studies at work.
We see the first two acts of the film through young Remmy’s eyes, carefully observing the adults around her and making friends with a dog-like robot she calls “Steve.” Prince delivers a wonderfully tender performance, enabling us to feel Remmy sizing up her future choices with each passing day.
The film’s final act jumps ahead ten years, when a now teenage Remmy (the awesomely named Nell Tiger Free from GoT) is nearing the day she’ll be forced to make those hard choices. Jerry has become an even bigger presence in her life, and Cordova flexes an impressive ability to keep you guessing about Jerry’s true nature until late in the game.
If you lean toward tidy endings wrapped in unmistakable red bows, you’ll find none of those in Settlers. You will find an engrossing tale careful to leave plenty of opportunities for filling in the blank spaces.
Follow where it leads, and you’ll glimpse a future that’s inviting you to rethink the past. And the present.