Sunday, June 20, 2021

Tribeca ’21: Settlers

Dirt-farming on Mars makes Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru’s Tatooine farm look lush and luxurious. However, for Remmy’s family, there is no alternative. Frankly, following undisclosed wars and natural disasters, they are looking to have a reasonably sustainable home. That is probably why mysterious outlaws try to take it for themselves in screenwriter-director Wyatt Rockefeller’s Settlers, which screens as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Remmy is happy living with her father Reza and mother Ilsa, even though they never see another soul—and apparently never expect to. Then one fateful day, they find the word “leave” smeared across the environmentally reinforced window of their space-age farm house. Her parents fight hard during the siege that follows, but it tragically ends with a long, awkward period of “occupation.”

The invading Jerry seems to think their homestead was once his family’s property. Regardless, he has certainly taken it back. Understandably, Remmy is quite bitter about the situation. Socially withdrawing, she prefers the company of a farm droid. Jerry acts like it is little more than a Roomba vacuuming robot, but Remmy thinks it has more of a persona than that.

is indeed Western-influenced science fiction, featuring futuristic homesteaders and outlaws, but it is definitely drawing from the slow, moody, and revisionist variety. Perversely, just about every significant event in the film happens off-screen. Initially, that builds a sense of mystery, but it grows frustrating over time.

However, the production design is truly stand-out award-deserving work. The farm-house and out-buildings look slightly ahead of our current time, but still somewhat lived-in and run-down. We rarely see sf like this. In some ways, the interiors even harken back to the original
Star Wars (we don’t call it “A New Hope” here).

The cast is also strong. Ismael Cruz Cordova keeps us completely off-balance with his intense but unpredictable performance as Jerry. Sofia Boutella probably does the best work we have ever seen from her as Ilsa. As the fatherly Reza, Jonny Lee Miller nicely helps create the family chemistry with her that will be so rudely interrupted. However, Rockefeller’s aesthetic and narrative choices actually make it harder for Brooklynn Prince and Nell Tiger Free to connect as Remmy (aged 9 and 18, respectively).

The pacing could also be described as laborious (when you don’t mind or notice a film taking its sweet time, you call it “meticulous” or “meditative” instead). The ambition and craftsmanship are admirable, but the storytelling needed help. Earning a conflicted mixed review (but not really a recommendation),
Settlers streams through June 23rd as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.