Space adventures with a notable focus on family drama have been no stranger to the cinematic screen over the last decade. It’s a subgenre that’s seen many successes including, but not limited to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and James Gray’s Ad Astra. I suppose after the out of this world events from the fast and furious family in F9 we can now count that too? However, jokes aside, these films often see their plots revolve around characters trying to get home to their families or venturing into space to find lost loved ones. So in a rare move for the genre Wyatt Rockefeller’s new sci-fi drama Settlers, which stars Sofia Boutella, Jonny Lee Miller and Brooklynn Prince, sees a family not searching for each other, but instead all living together in a settlement on Mars. With their family all well and accounted for their struggle isn’t one of being reunited or finding their way home but instead it concerns surviving the cosmic elements, as well as any other dangers that threaten their new Martian way of life.
Settlers certainly starts well, immersing audiences straight into the story sparing them any drawn out context or an exposition heavy introduction. The high quality of the set and production design immediately helps to ground the story and put viewers at ease, allowing them to accept the characters’ surroundings and the larger narrative that frames them. Said narrative is quickly established showing that this family isn’t alone and that there is a threat to their lives and home not far from where they live. What follows makes for a promising start to the film as it provides an entertaining mixture of suspenseful sequences backed up by some well executed action. However, the more positive start isn’t maintained through the second and third acts of the film and unfortunately this will leave audiences, ironically – unsettled.
There’s a definite shift from sci-fi thriller to family drama after the first act, but this in itself isn’t the problem. The real issue is that the content of the drama isn’t strong enough to support this shift and after the more exciting start it feels far less intriguing and lacking in comparison. Major moments in the story which should have huge impact for both the characters and audience come and go far too quickly with little time given to empathise or process what has happened, and somehow the film still feels painfully slow moving. There is so much potential for dramatic tension here but this is never taken advantage of, meaning that Settlers only ever manages to be a mediocre entry into this sci-fi subgenre.
That isn’t to say that the cast aren’t trying though, and the end result is especially disappointing considering Prince, who was introduced to most of the world through Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, delivers another good performance. She is the shining beacon of hope for the film as she single handedly keeps viewers engaged. Her interactions with one of the characters in particular, Frank should have been utilised much more as a method to understand her feelings and motivations, as well as for comedy, but as with the majority of the film this aspect only ends up being a missed opportunity. The remaining cast are fine, they simply aren’t as compelling as the likeable young performer and the underpar material they have to work with creates an uphill battle for them which unfortunately proves too hard to overcome.
With that in mind, don’t let the film’s first act lull you into a false sense of security as Settlers fails to improve on the strong foundations that its beginning lays for it. A lacklustre script plagued with an absence of momentum dooms the film to be a dull drama devoid of any emotion or excitement. The film does venture into quite dark and unexpected territory but by the time it arrives here the damage is already done and whilst it could have been quite affecting it instead simply fails to register with audiences whatsoever. So whilst Settlers strays from the more familiar family space story we’ve seen in recent years it maybe could have benefitted from sticking more closely to this kind of narrative as the quality of its finished product is worlds apart from those more successful examples. Ultimately leaving Settlers as nothing more than a forgettable footprint on the genre, buried in the space dust of those who have come before it.