Picked up by IFC Midnight ahead of its premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, Settlers is a peculiar futuristic drama, written and directed by Wyatt Rockefeller. While its gritty world is savagely engrossing, I longed for it to dig deeper into its dystopian setting. In failing to expand its scope, Settlers doesn’t quite take off. What does work is the visionary eye of a debut filmmaker, tossing in gorgeous scenery whenever possible.
Structured over the course of several distinct chapters, Settlers follows Remmy at both nine years old (Brooklynn Prince of the extremely underrated horror film The Turning) and 18 years old (Servant’s hypnotic Nell Tiger Free). Along with her mother (blade-legged, Kingsman actress Sofia Boutella) and father (Trainspotting and Dracula 2000 standout Jonny Lee Miller), Remmy must fight to maintain their peaceful homestead on the Martian frontier.
Settlers isn’t exactly a mystery film, but the less you know about it going in the better. It relies a little too heavily on the blueprint it chooses to tell the story. Too often the script tells us when it should be showing us. A key moment in Chapter 3 feels like it completely glazes over a vital and game-changing plot point.
The excellent direction and performances are what elevates this from bargain-bin throwaway sci-fi. Sofia Boutella is great as the ruthless matriarch Ilsa, and both iterations of Remmy are nuanced and captivating. Juxtaposing scenes of guitar bonding crafts parallels between the time periods. Remmy’s constant robo-companion is also a true delight and has one extra badass, crowd-pleasing moment.
The family’s battle for survival has brief glimmers of violence and intensity akin to Mad Max—you can feel the possibilities brimming even as they dissipate in later chapters. With the earliest segment and the end being the strongest, I was still left with more questions than answers from Settlers. It is halfway to being a solid foundation, but I would hesitate to say that Settlers is worthy of moving into.
Settlers screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, June 18th, 2021.