Settlers review — an unpleasant experience

July 26, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews
3

Summary

Settlers can be an almost excessively unpleasant pandemic-inspired allegory, but a remarkably honest one.

3

Summary

Settlers can be an almost excessively unpleasant pandemic-inspired allegory, but a remarkably honest one.

I’m sure the film Settlers was inspired or at least given the green light in part by the current pandemic. It’s a character study in isolation, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. It’s really more accurate than most films on the subject that are given a science fiction backdrop. My initial reaction to the film was negative to mixed. The more time has passed, the more I have found myself thinking more and more about it.

Settlers was written and directed by Wyatt Rockefeller. A desolate science fiction story about the first settlement on a Martian land from Earth, it was a two-man ship that was forced to land off course. In the present day, Riza (Johnny Lee Miller) and Ilsa (Atomic Blonde’s Sofia Boutella) have set up camp with their daughter, Remmy (The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince). They painted a positive picture for their daughter, quizzing each other on what animals they have even seen or not. That’s until nightfall when an ominous feeling comes over them.

The next day is written on their kitchen window, what looks like in blood, the word “leave” on it. This terrifies the family, including Remmy’s stoic father. Remmy watches her father leave and come back, rifle over his shoulder and his forehead slumped against the door. He is drained from the experience. Soon, their settlement camp is put through an attempted siege, led by a man named Jerry (Mary Queen of Scots‘s Ismael Cruz Cordova). You’d think six or seven people would be able to live together peacefully under one martian planet, but what do I know.

Rockefeller’s script had a lot of potential. It is a very engaging opening act, an eye-opening shotgun wheeling entity I won’t identify, breathtaking cinematography by the director of photography Willie Nel that leads to a powerful final shot — one of the best I have seen this year, I were to be honest.

Though, sitting through Settlers can be an almost excessively unpleasant pandemic-inspired allegory. To that point, it’s sincere in the way the story plays out. Although on a much smaller scale, having views the power structure and the assimilation of rival tribes sincerely, yet brutally. Nevermore is that true than when Cordova’s Jerry confuses power and situational loneliness with intimacy.

Overall, many will come around on Settlers‘ uncompromised vision, which is rare nowadays even if its final act is alarming. Not to mention the two standout performances from Prince, and the actress who plays the older Remmy, Servant‘s Nell Tiger Free. You can admire a film more than outright enjoying it, but can it be recommended? You can’t deny the emotional reaction Rockefeller creates here. That’s quite visceral. He creates a reaction that is never bored because of how deeply unsettling his film can be. The filmmaker’s job is not to sugarcoat things, but to acknowledge situations like this do exist, have happened, or we could always revert back to them.

Once you start to criticize that, you compromise film as an art form. We can’t let that happen. 

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