Life as a colonist on Mars somewhere in the future is hard. The land is largely barren, the environment bleak and hostile. It’s also pulverisingly boring if Wyatt Rockefeller’s debut feature is to be believed. This is a 100-odd minute film that feels likes a series of still images occasionally enlivened by a scene of someone running or raising their voice. Beautiful to look at – the cinematography really exploits the South African location and makes it look as if we’re really up on the red planet – but the drama is largely lifeless and generally spectacularly uninteresting.
Set roughly across a decade Setters focuses on a family living a minimalist lifestyle on a farmstead on Mars. We don’t really know anything about the history of Martian exploration or how the planet has been terraformed – everyone is able to breathe and move around quite easily so clearly work’s been done. The homeworld must be in a bit of a state: “Earth’s not what it was” says patriarch Reza (Jonny Lee Miller) to his nine-year-old daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince). Together with Remmy’s mum Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) the three are eking out an existence of sorts until their idyll is threatened - promisingly – when the word ‘LEAVE’ is scrawled on the window of their habitat. We briefly hope that the film might develop into some sort of space home invasion story with the family fighting off increasingly aggressive attacks from outsiders and indeed there is a quick contretemps before the family’s status quo is completely upended and the story, such as it is, grinds to a complete halt. Remmy finds herself growing up in a new and suspicious environment and she has to learn to trust and accept the arrival of outsider Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova) who claims the homestead in the name of his own family inheritance. Much sitting about and scowling ensue as the film inches inexorably, painfully, towards its laboured conclusion.
Settlers may well appeal to those who prefer their science fiction a bit more grounded and thoughtful but the film’s glacial pace and lack of momentum suck the life out of it and it only flares back into life briefly when we fast forward to Remmy as an adult (Nell Tiger Free) forced to confront the difficult and overbearing Jerry in the absence of her own mother. But it’s hard to care about any of this because there’s no compelling dramatic drive and the characters are too cold and uninteresting to give much of a damn about. Beautifully filmed and rather stately from a visual perspective, there’s very little here to latch onto and Settlers is likely to provide some express relief for an audience bored with sci-fi blockbuster bombast but we’re betting that anyone who stumbles across this one is likely to boot up the likes of The Tomorrow War for a rewatch just to remind themselves that they’re still alive after nearly two hours of this staggering inertia.
Settlers is released in the UK on July 30th