One of the most hotly-debated topics in the field of science has got to be the idea of launching projects, and, potentially, future colonization on the little red planet that sits third in the inner-solar system… Mars. It is easy to see why this would garner so much attention, as the concept is simple enough to get the most uninterested civilian excited. Now, we are seeing a large push from privatized companies such as SpaceX making gradual steps towards such a massive feat. Due to this, storytellers have begun taking advantage of these fantastical adventures with massive scale, and ultimately grounding them as the goal of accomplishing such an undertaking has become scientifically relative and accessible. As we get closer-and-closer to these incredible projects, filmmakers are having a much more creative ways of illustrating these possibilities in a realistic way to audiences, and a brilliant example is that of Director, Wyatt Rockefeller’s, intimate, yet endearing Settlers.
Telling the story of some of the first colonizers on Mars, and the extents to which an individual will go in a survivalist situation, Settlers ambitiously sets itself apart from anything else in the genre by grounding the realities of space exploration in an attempt to showcase what may occur when colonization begins. At first, you almost feel sad that humanity still acts naturally in a situation that is essentially man-made, resulting in class wars between certain groups on the planet’s surface. Even though this appears to be the earliest days of colonization, there is still the worry of theft, vandalization, and violence, and not so much in-terms of collaboration or mass efforts for progress.
The entire idea is that deep-down, no matter the accomplishment for humanity, many will still always look for themselves to survive and conquer first-and-foremost. Arguably the greatest strength Settlers possesses is in it’s atmosphere; filmed in The Northern Cape of Vioolsdift in South Africa, the film oozes other-worldly tones with a sprinkle of western to boot. Rockefeller does such an incredible creating this world within a world, and it only takes that of the first few moments of the film to be completely invested in. Choosing to specifically follow a small family was a brilliant way of creating an intimate layer for the situation, as well as being able to provide the needed exposition for the narrative as the parents Reza, and Ilsa, played by Johnny Lee Miller (AEon Flux, Mindhunters) and Sophia Boutella (Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond) respectively try to teach their 9-year-old daughter, Remmy played by Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project, The One And Only Ivan), about their new way of life, whilst also hinting at the past and why Rez and Isla are where they are now. Early in the film Reza explains to Remmy that Mars will one day be “just like Earth”, foreboding this entire theme of nature v.s. humanity. Soon the audience begins to get slighter hints at the looming threat in the area such as that of blitz-raids, which show Reza and Ilsa struggling to fend at times. This all begins to take a turn when an invader by the name of Jerry, with a strong performance by Ismael Cruz Cordova (In The Blood, Mary Queen Of Scots), makes his way into the family’s base, claiming the land as his own, a family inheritance of-sorts, forcing the family into a convolution, and that issue holds strong until the lasting moments of the film.
For a film that spends it’s time focusing on certain location shots to transition from scene-to-scene, it never drags. the Editing by Johnny Daukes (The Message, Acts Of Godfrey) is incredibly precise, and the balance helps the pacing of the film immensely. The performances by The well-paced nature of the film is also complimented by it’s use of quick, and snappy dialogue. While Settlers may come across as a slow-burn, it is truly impressive how well it manages to not lose the viewer at any point. All of the performances are subtle, yet nuanced in the best possible ways, as these characters a rather shown to be weathered, and not preached specifically. Narratively told through the use of chapters, it will be interesting to see how other viewers react towards the film’s structure.
Settlers truly does a lot with very little. From the intense tone and tension, to the immersive Cinematography by Willie Nel (Meerkat Maantuig, The Mauritanian), and incredible Set Design by Noam Piper (Here Comes The Punch, Paddington) that absolutely gives the film a martian identity, this is one of the more impressive indie films I have seen in quite a while. If this is the work we can expect to see out of Wyatt Rockefeller’s Directorial-debut, than there is certainly a career to look forward to.
Score: 9 / 10.