A slow-burn that goes nowhere
Settlers is not a sci-fi flick. It’s not a particularly gripping, exciting or action-packed thriller and instead feels closer to Nomadland in its intention. Instead of that slow-paced Best picture winner, Settlers feels devoid of plot. It’s a movie that seems to have something to say but doesn’t quite manifest that into a coherent screenplay.
With no expository text or explanation as to what’s going on, Settlers encourages and challenges audiences to come up with their own explanation. That’s absolutely fine and in a way it’s refreshing to find a movie that doesn’t hand-hold or pander to audiences as if they’re 5.
The trouble is, Settlers doesn’t really have that much going for it to warrant that much of a commitment. You could piece together what’s happened in the past through the scattered dialogue but there’s far too many questions to leave you satisfied when the final credits roll. And boy is this film slow.
There’s nothing wrong with a slow-burn if it’s a slice of life picture or building to something but Settlers does neither. In fact, it finishes with a complete non-ending; an ambiguous shrug of the shoulders and an encouragement for you to finish the story in your head.
In its simplest form, Settlers is a family drama that takes place on Mars. It follows the earliest settlers on the Martian frontier living out their lives. At the forefront of this is a simple farmer family with Ilsa, Reza and their daughter Remmy. One thing leads to another and the family are changed forever by a surprise visitor.
It’s worth pointing out that the aesthetics in this film are stunning. The vistas and landscapes look gorgeous while the camera work is some of the best seen in a low-budget film for quite some time. Settlers certainly has sprinklings of suspenseful atmosphere too (no pun intended) and the minimalist soundtrack works beautifully to accentuate this.
The trouble is, all this slow-paced work just makes you contemplate more about the lack of logic that’s gone into this. Where is the water coming from? Who devised this whole project? Why can’t these guys communicate with the outside world? Where did the pig come from? (Yes, there’s a pig) and what happened to Earth?
None of these questions are answered, although the film does at least explain how these guys can breathe oxygen. Beyond that though, good luck getting answers from this one. If you like your pictures tightly wound and with some satisfying answers, you won’t find that here.
Settlers is certainly a promising Indie and a solid debut from Director Wyatt Rockefeller. There will undoubtedly be niche appeal for this and undoubtedly enough for most critics to sink their teeth into, especially with such a rich colour palette and obvious themes. Unfortunately, the most important part of this screenplay is missing – the story. What’s here isn’t nearly enough to leave a lasting impression, making Settlers more forgettable than it should be.