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‘Settlers’ review: More than a sci-fi western, but still not enough

Feel, don’t see.

Settlers has a very familiar ring to it. The story about a family starting a new homestead on the rugged plains has been a common and popular one for decades. Even taking the story to Mars is not a new idea. To just label the film as a science fiction-western is severely minimizing it, however. As it turns out, Ilsa (Sofia Boutella) and Reza (Johnny Lee Miller) are keeping something from their daughter Remmy (Brooklyn Prince/Nell Tiger Free). Settlers is a character driven tale about family and trust that is heavy on emotion.

After an intense and action packed opening, things slow down quite a bit. Settlers sets up an awkward and tense situation. Three people who do not entirely trust each other must get along. This portion of Settlers is filled with the most humanity. Feelings of loss, betrayal, and begrudging acceptance are mixed with an odd home invasion type story. It is done effectively and each revelation draw audiences deeper into the story.

The plot loses some steam in the third and final chapter. Things become less about subtle storytelling and become much more visceral. On the plus side, the performances in Settlers remain solid the entire way through. The biggest issue with the film may be the number of plot threads that remain unresolved. It is not necessary for a film to answer every question, but it helps to give clues to help figure things up. Writer-director Wyatt Rockefeller offers up lots of intriguing sub plots, but is seemingly not interested in visiting any of them. The best example is seen in the final shot of Settlers. There is no sense of closure and those watching are left asking the types of questions audiences should not have to.

Ultimately, this may have been the point of Settlers. Perhaps, it is not so much about what is seen (this is the rare sci-fi flick that uses little in the way of special effects) but how it all makes those watching feel. If that is the case, the acting and storytelling need to take center stage. In this case they do, and based on those merits, the film is an unquestioned success.

Settlers opens in select theaters an is available to rent July 23

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