‘Settlers’ Review: Interstellar Colonialism on Mars

Billionaires are racing to colonize space, but how might it play out if they were ever to be successful? “Settlers,” a sci-fi thriller from Wyatt Rockefeller (of those Rockefellers) takes a stab at this vision, but succeeds only in telling a clumsy cautionary tale of homesteading and violence on the planet Mars. It would make the most sense for this film to side with Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova), a Mars native hoping to reclaim his land. Instead, it paints him as a deranged savage.

“Settlers” is divided into three chapters, each focused on a key figure in the life of a young girl named Remmy (Brooklynn Prince). Her father, Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), is a short-tempered, protective man. He warns Remmy and her mother, Ilsa (Sofia Boutella), not to stray too far from their remote ranch. Soon enough, his paranoia proves true when Jerry appears. As it turns out, Jerry’s family used to own the land before Reza and Ilsa ousted them. He wants his home back.

Though this could be a straightforward fable about the ills of colonialism — the twist being that Remmy and her family are the real intruders — Rockefeller’s muddled script casts Jerry as the villain, and he quickly makes Remmy’s life a living hell. Jerry (played, notably, by a Puerto Rican actor) will stop at nothing, including murder, to lead a successful life on Mars.

This has all the trappings of a film that should know what it’s doing: impressive special effects, slick cinematography, staggering art direction. Unfortunately, all the money in the world can’t save this rotten narrative, which culminates in a scene depicting the attempted rape of a teenage girl. “Settlers” purports to challenge violence against women and colonialism. Instead, the female protagonist wallows in powerlessness for most of the movie, and a boxy robot is ultimately presented as more sympathetic than a displaced brown man.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In select theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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