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Review: Settlers – “I was gripped and at times jolted out of fatigue by bolts of adrenaline”

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Though Settlers features a married couple it’s not, despite my inability to resist a tortured pun, a film about one of them regretting all the great, hot people they didn’t marry.  They’re both movie stars, for a start, and they look like it.  Despite living in less-than-ideal conditions, they both carry off Hollywood’s idea of rough-living chic with aplomb.  At one point they get dirt on their flawless features.  The horror.

The first thing to say about this debut feature from Wyatt Rockefeller, a London-based filmmaker, is to avoid the publicity material!  The trailer gives away much of the plot and the precis I received for review (which thankfully I didn’t read until after seeing the film) spoiled one of the best things about it.

So, taking care to be less spoilery, what’s this all about, then?

The Settlers of the title are one-time Sick Boy, Jolie squeeze, and kickboxer Jonny Lee Miller and Sofia Boutella of Atomic Blonde and the 2017 version of The Mummy.  They live on Mars with their daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince, from the excellent The Florida Project).  The precis describes them living there ‘following an ecological disaster on Earth,’ but that seems redundant.  We’re long past the notion of an ecological collapse on Earth seeming like science fiction, so a potential future on another world is a hope for younger generations.  Ironically, the film feels grounded.

Superficially, the film reminded me of some of the science fiction I hoovered up as a kid.  There are echoes of Silent Running, Z for Zachariah (the book, anyway, I’ve yet to see the recent film) and the eerie 1980 TV series The Martian Chronicles.  Of course, the film it most obviously resembles is The Martian, and it deserves huge kudos that a debut feature so closely resembles that swaggering mega-budget film.  Shooting in a rocky desert with a red filter can achieve a lot, in both cases

There’s an authenticity to this.  The modular habitation, the greenhouse, weeing in a bucket.  There’s an adorably dog-like robot too, the effects for which are entirely convincing.  The acting is uniformly excellent throughout.  Boutella gets a chance to show a range lacking in earlier roles.  Miller is as convincing as always (it will be interesting to see his portrayal of John Major in The Crown, even if it feels like stunt-casting).  Prince has much to do and manages it all admirably.  If she continues as an actor (always a tricky path to negotiate to adulthood) then she seems bound for awards glory.

The plot is as sparse as the scenery and all the better for it.  I won’t go into more detail, save the references I made earlier.  Suffice to say, it’s very much rooted in humans and human weakness.  If you’re looking for an SF fix, then perhaps go elsewhere; to an extent, these characters could be settling anywhere.  It does go to disturbing and questionable places, but at least it does so for motivations rooted in the story.  There is one audacious device in this which was fantastic to see happen and which all the publicity has carelessly spoiled, so, once again, if you’re going to watch it, watch it cold.

The music by Nitin Sawhney was great, once again elevating the film so that it doesn’t feel like a debut.

It won’t be for everyone, but films that try to be for everyone are usually dull.  A big compliment for me is my state of mind when I watched it.  A house move, a brutal work schedule and the general brain fog of lockdown had conspired to tire me to the point of sleeping on my feet.  Despite that, I was gripped and at times jolted out of fatigue by bolts of adrenaline.  I can’t wait to see what Rockefeller and his crew do next.

SETTLERS is in cinemas and on digital platforms on July 30th.

For more of my ramblings, check out FiskFilm or Medium.

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