Review by Sean Boelman
It’s always interesting to see when filmmakers take two genres that are seemingly at odds with each other and attempt to combine them, as it can either result in something intriguingly creative or a colossal misfire. Wyatt Rockefeller’s sci-fi Western Settlers may not be the pinnacle of originality, but it’s an entertaining and ambitious flick nonetheless.
The film follows a family of refugees living on Earth whose attempts at a peaceful life are disturbed when a stranger threatens to invade their lives. It’s a story we’ve seen in plenty of times in the Western genre before — the mysterious outlaw getting involved in the lives of the innocent townsfolk with unknown intentions — and it translates well into a sci-fi setting.
What Rockefeller struggles to do in his script is find the balance between concise and fully-developed storytelling. It’s clear that his priority here was to write a movie that was entertaining from start-to-finish, but the final product has very little room to breathe. Lots of time jumps with little explanation will leave viewers a tad confused.
Rockefeller’s script also lacks a clear deeper meaning. Some of the ideas that he is playing around with in the script are obvious, but are presented in a way that is too subtle to be insightful. Ultimately, the action and family drama ends up taking center stage, relegating any commentary that Rockefeller had to the background.
The film also could have done more in terms of character development. The final act hits that sweet spot that the movie was trying to find of ambiguity in terms of the characters, but the first two-thirds feel a bit disconnected. The mother-daughter relationship that should have served as the emotional connection isn’t fully explored.
That said, the cast does an absolutely exceptional job of making the most out of their characters. Young actress Brooklynn Prince has finally gotten another opportunity to showcase her range after her breakout in The Florida Project. Ismael Cruz Cordova is sinisterly alluring in his role. And Sofia Boutella and Jonny Lee Miller round out the supporting cast quite well.
It is on a visual level that Rockefeller is perhaps most successful. This is an independent production, but Rockefeller makes the most of what he had at his disposal to make a film that is immersively claustrophobic. The audience will feel this future and otherworldly setting come to life, but feel like they are absolutely trapped in it at the same time.
Many of the imperfections of Settlers are in its script, but there are enough great elements in Wyatt Rockefeller’s debut to make it worthy of recommendation. It’s an enjoyable movie that elevates itself beyond its constraints quite well.
Settlers hits theaters and VOD on July 23.