There is strife on Mars in Settlers

Writer and director Wyatt Rockefeller’s debut is a sci-fi thriller of galactic proportions on the Red Planet

Friday, 23rd July 2021 — By Dan Carrier


Asking big questions – Settlers

Directed by Wyatt Rockefeller
Certificate: 15

CREATING a sense of crushing, suffocating claustrophobia has long been a key element of space-based thrillers and horrors. Manage that and you can tamper with the viewer’s emotions like an evil puppet master.

Wyatt Rockefeller’s debut draws on a well-trodden path for such superior sci-fi, combining ideas we have seen before in flicks ranging from the horribly prenominative 1970s sci-fi, Silent Running, the Alien series, The Andromeda Strain and, more recently, Matt Damon’s The Martian (which is 100 times less scary than this).

Settlers takes us to a dingy corner of the Red Planet, where we meet Ilsa (Sofia Boutella), her husband Reza (Jonny Lee Miller) and daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince, and then played by Nell Tiger Free as a teenager). They are eking out an existence in a barren valley. As father points out Earth to his daughter, we uncover more about their circumstances – and that for some reason, being alone in this desert is more favourable to being on our home planet.

There is a mixture of love and tension in the house – Remmy is scared of something she senses but can’t quantify. Isla and Reza are all too aware of their precarious position, and as if the barren environment isn’t enough, the trio fall foul of other Mars settlers, who have designs on the family’s home.

What transpires is a thriller of galactic proportions, and gets really uncomfortable when another Mars migrant, Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova), appears and has reasons to take over the homestead. The inherent stupidity of human nature when it comes to sharing assets equally has travelled with these settlers from Earth. It makes for conflict when the only sensible solution is cooperation, providing a perfect parable for the climate emergency we face today.

As the narrative progresses, a chilling reveal about the circumstances of life on Mars, and how humans have adapted, cranks the story up a notch. We meet a series of characters who display natural human “flaws”. The stress of their situation makes them act in an irrational manner – but in a way that appears perfectly reasonable when you consider the challenges they face.

As the drama develops, questions are asked about why we procreate, what our innate survival instincts tell us to do, and, at its heart, twin philosophical ideas of how you gauge your quality of life, and how human need for others is at the heart of our natural socially based lives.

Sci-fi allows writers range to ask big questions, and Rockefeller, who wrote as well as directed Settlers, shovels it on with great effect.

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