By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/26/21 – Just opened in various theatres in Los Angeles is a new sci-fi film Settlers (2021), a debut feature film by writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller and distributed by IFC Midnight. Settlers opens with a family on the surface of Mars, one of the early colonizers of an inhospitable place after Earth finally destroyed itself and a remnant of humanity survives on planet Mars. This is a sci-fi film that basically transports a Western plot into outer space. Reza (Jonny Lee Miller) and Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) are raising nine-year-old Remmy (a talented Brooklyn Prince) on this lonely planet, but it’s clear from the beginning that danger lurks over the horizon. The 9-year-old daughter only knows her mom and dad and their dog-like robot, Steve in the literal settlement bubble farm, complete with a greenhouse and pigsty. She looks at the pale, blue dot aka Earth from her bedroom window. Someone (or something) wrote “LEAVE” on the window of their Martian settlement farm. As Reza and Ilsa’s fear grows, Remmy discovers the truth about what’s out there, and even who is already inside. It is the frightening arrival of Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova), whose eerie presence changes the familial dynamic, shifting the layered sci-fi drama into the territory of the Western.
Settlers, says writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller, is “a sci-fi western without horses or space suits,” and shot in the Great Kahoo Desert, 8 hours from Cape Town, South Africa. In an interview, he mentions how he went from working in the energy sector into filmmaking. He was inspired to write the screenplay for Settlers after a backpacking trip with his father in the woods where he felt like he was being watched by some unknown outsider. That was the seed of the movie’s plot. Obviously, there are influences of many Westerns, including John Ford films shot in Monument Valley. This is a story about survival in a hostile environment, both physically and psychologically.
The film is told in a three-chapter structure told mainly through the eyes of Remmy. This helps the film’s pacing as it is able to explore different tones throughout the film, although it is a very dark film in its overall tone. The director Wyatt Rockefeller learned a lot from his arguably more experienced cast. “They each work differently, have a range of methods of how they approach their characters and how they get in the zone. It’s my job as a director to make the environment safe and support the actors.” The film with its intriguing premise starts out strong but sags in the middle, until we finally shift in the third act to a time ten years later, when Remmy is now 18 and a woman (played by Nell Tiger Free). Remmy is forced to make a difficult set of choices about her own survival in this hostile Martian environment. As the director Wyatt Rockefeller explains, “Mars is the next frontier and Western films are immigrant stories. They’re about trying to build a new life in a foreign place. There is so much richness to these themes.”