Settlers review: A sci-fi movie questions a Martian colony, then falls apart

Language is a slippery thing, and our subjectivity and life experiences can shape the definition of a word. Taken from “settlers”. In America, the word is historically associated with the occupation of the Americas in the Americas, and it is reminiscent of a certain story: vast, unfriendly borders, aggressive action that bends the land according to one’s will, and presumption of regional openness, ready to be tamed. The last element of empty is the key to romanticizing the making of a statement and is the most powerful component of western independent science fiction Settlers is how it understands that corruption and colonialism go hand in hand.

The strangest element of SettlersStill, that’s how screenwriter and director Wyatt Rockefeller leans toward that understanding, then shapes the film’s heroes and villains through his distortion. It doesn’t look like a purposeful subversion. A bit reminiscent Passenger, another sci-fi movie where the person presented as a good person is not a good person, Settlers visually appealing (shot on location in the stunning Northern Cape in South Africa) and expertly shot. Rockefeller is well aware of the space-expanding themes of the genre, as his characters settle on Mars. But while cinematographer Willie Nel emphasizes the barren nature of an alien world through slow-motion shots through jagged mountains and piles of rocks, gazes rise into a starry black night and An incredible scene in an abandoned tunnel, Rockefeller struggles to shade his characters from their motivations, or trauma on Earth that has led them to abandon the planet.

Is the central family part of a larger group that left Earth? Would audiences see them differently if they described themselves as “refugees” and not “settlers”? How did Earth get a negative reputation among the other planets of the galaxy? Does Mars have its own native inhabitants? Why choose this planet if it’s so extreme?

Brooklynn Prince as Remmy kneels to touch a boxy four-legged robot in Settlers

Photo: IFC Midnight

A screenplay doesn’t have to answer every question the viewer has – a movie should exist on its own terms. But Settlers so naked in these general world-building details that its characters float unfettered, and the film’s central reveal seems more of a narrative shortcut than an opportunity to dig deeper. more on the story. Other decisions, such as dividing the film into separate chapters named after different characters, but maintaining only one individual’s point of view throughout, are like a thwarted opportunity to change change everything. Settlers opens with a gripping sense of mystery and a thrilling attack scene that pays homage to the film’s Western roots, but then fades, minute by minute, leading to a disappointingly lackluster conclusion.

Set on Mars some day in the future, Settlers focuses on a home whose family-centered is struggling to invigorate. Surrounded by steep cliffs that frequently crumble into jagged rocks, beneath hazy skies and a blazing red sun, father Reza (Jonny Lee Miller, cast as a character with a traditional name President of Iran) and mother Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) do their best to shield their daughter Remmy (Brooklyn Prince) from their dire situation. Ilsa’s greenhouse is struggling to produce vegetables. They have been trying to raise pigs for many years, and have only two. And the family is clearly living in fear of their surroundings.

The wind howling, the gate creaking and the banging in the night, all followed a certain routine. Reza grabs a rifle, Ilsa reaches for a knife, and Remmy hides. The speed with which they did this suggested practice, and the frantic whispering conversations between Reza and Ilsa that Remmy overheard filled in with other details about other people who might be living on the planet. . After this tense bang of an opening, Settlers interrupts family life by introducing Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova), whose piercing blue eyes are reminiscent of Chani in Sand dunes, and his array of tattoos and scars suggest a life full of hardship and hardship. He can help the settlement thrive again, if his family allows him to stay. It was an offer they could not refuse, if they wanted to live. But Jerry’s presence pushes Remmy to a rage that makes her curiosity about her surroundings reckless.

The device “strangers forcing their presence on an isolated family” can go wildly different directions in incest or horror fashion, from Z for Zachariah arrive It comes at night. But Settlers offensive because of the lack of imagination of what can happen when a male outsider gets in the way of a married couple, especially given the murderous script that makes all the female characters in the film become victim in the process. The film’s third action change adds a grotesque wrinkle to these relationships. It raises questions that Rockefeller barely tries to answer, about who has the right to make claims to the natural world, and it adds an element of gender politics that the characters in the film don’t. nuanced enough to deal with.

Ismael Cruz Córdova as Jerry standing in a barren landscape on Mars in Settlers

Photo: Graham Bartholomew / IFC Midnight

All of this adds to the feeling that Boutella and Prince’s strong performance is wasted. The two actresses and Miller were subjected to the same high frequency of anxiety. That early attack is aimed at their home, with Reza and Ilsa shouting information back and forth to each other to pinpoint a sniper, as Rockefeller’s camera tracks their panicked, sprinting bodies , tap that frequency and make the action fun. Boutella always balances ferocity and fragility, and Prince has an impressive look.

But after that Settlers introduced Jerry and immediately used him as a clue to complex moral questions, and because the character is hilariously named (possibly the Martian called Jerry?!) too bad Cordova’s performance suffers. A time jump also shrouded Remmy in obscurity, reducing her entire essence to what her body could do. even though Settlers Told primarily from her point of view, the film fails to convey who she became when she grew up.

Movie could be worse than imitating some overlapping stories between Alien and High life, but Rockefeller just repeated other science fiction, instead of inventing big ideas of his own. The result is the film’s most interesting ideas – Ilsa sadly says of the Earth, “We don’t know where we come from”; terrain as a kind of genocide – not explored in favor of a story low enough to suggest sexual assault as a character development. When Reza tells Remmy that Mars “will be like Earth” one day, a brave sci-fi proposal would spin that line as a warning. Settlers almost, but not quite, that movie.

Settlers premieres in theaters and on VOD on July 23. | Settlers review: A sci-fi movie questions a Martian colony, then falls apart


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