Settlers is a slow-burn sci-fi film without much substance. While Wyatt Rockefeller's debut feature is polished and vividly realized, making the most of a smaller budget, the film has a more developed setting than a plot. The film is carried by good performances from the cast but the film works better as a sizzle real for Rockefeller's talents than an engrossing thriller.
Settlers is set on Mars and follows a family as they try to live a good life after leaving Earth. Reza (Johnny Lee Miller) and Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) have one daughter Remmy (Brooklyn Prince). They are a resourceful couple who shelter Remmy from the dangers of life. The couple dream of making Mars a place like Earth someday but presently they are just trying to survive. It soon becomes clear that the family is being watched and that an attack on their home is imminent.
The first act is tense and well-paced as Rockefeller ratchets up the tension until an impressively orchestrated shootout takes place. This may sound like it is setting up a thriller as the family defends their home. Things quickly shift with the introduction of one of the invaders, Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova). Jerry claims the homestead is his and suggests that Reza and Ilsa killed his parents to take it. Jerry's presence initially creates some wonderful tension. Things soon however slow down as Remmy watches how her mother deals with Jerry, first rejecting him and then warming up. The film begins to crawl here with not much happening. There are a few bursts of action but the film never lives up to what is suggested in the first act.
Settlers is visually stunning. What is accomplished here with great locations and set design is a marvel. The cast is quite good as well. Códova is the standout creating a complex and layered character in Jerry. He can shift from thoughtful and tender to brutal and volatile in seconds. This makes for compelling viewing. However, as the film goes along it reveals very little about the situation these characters are placed in. The film shifts from the thriller it begins as to an odd drama.