James Jay Edwards reviews Settlers, a science fiction thriller film written and directed by Wyatt Rockefeller. (IFC Midnight)
The beauty of the science fiction genre is that a filmmaker can take just about any type of a movie, set it in the future and/or on another planet, and it becomes a sci-fi flick. Case-in-point: Settlers.
Settlers is about a family, composed of father Reza (Trainspotting’s Jonny Lee Miller), mother Ilsa (Climax’s Sofia Boutella), and daughter Remmy (Brooklyn Prince from The Florida Project), that resides on a farm in a remote section of the planet Mars. When their lonely-yet-peaceful existence is interrupted by a rogue band of raiding marauders, Reza ventures off to protect their home. He doesn’t come back.
(Settlers, theatrical release poster, courtesy IFC Films)
But one of the intruders, a rough fellow named Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova from Ray Donovan), does return. He claims that the family’s homestead belongs to him and accuses Ilsa and Reza of killing his parents. He says he knows what to do to get the farm up and running, and that Ilsa and Remmy need him to survive, as the rest of the planet has died off.
What could possibly go wrong?
(Settlers, courtesy IFC Midnight)
Settlers is the feature film debut of writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller, who has, up until now, worked solely with short films. He has a fresh and unique voice, as Settlers is a creative take on both the science fiction film and the traditional Western. In fact, if not for the futuristic design of the set and a little sentient robot (which really could be a dog in an Earth-bound adaptation), Settlers could take place in the wild wild West right here on Earth. It’s a cool little mashup.
There’s also a bit of a horror vibe to Settlers. Most of the real violence is implied, happening just offscreen instead of being thrust into the viewer’s face, but that just makes it more disturbing. Rockefeller lets the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks, and what the audience imagines is a worst-case scenario. This is what makes Settlers a truly haunting film.
(Settlers, photos by Graham Bartholomew, courtesy IFC Midnight)
It’s disturbing in other ways as well—ways that may require a trigger warning. As Ilsa and Remmy have no choice but to reluctantly welcome Jerry into their lives, he becomes sort of a de facto father figure to the little girl. And Jerry is around for a long while, so Remmy grows up (and is played as a young woman by Nell Tiger Free from Game of Thrones). This situation is uncomfortable, with Jerry first flirting with her, then gaslighting her, and finally fully abusing and assaulting her. It’s a creepy subplot to an already unsettling movie.
Whether one sees it as a subtle science fiction movie or a revisionist Western, one thing is certain. Settlers may be a simple film, but its Silent Running-meets-The Beguiled-by-way-of-The Martian groove is very effective. Whether it be anger, disgust, or sadness, the movie gets a reaction from its audience without feeling like an overblown space opera. While it won’t be remembered as a classic in the future, Settlers gets the job done in the here and now. Or maybe that should be on Mars and in the future.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.