‘The Settlers’ Review: Brutal and Bold Filmmaking At It’s Finest

The Settlers is not made on a huge scale but that does not deter it from being anything short of an epic.

The Settlers

Director Felipe Gálvez in his debut feature, The Settlers (Los Colonos) has made a brutal, breathtaking and bold Chilean western film that not only enlightens but keeps the audience engaged till the credits roll. Filmed with a 1.50:1 aspect ratio, the director wants us to focus on the characters rather than get distracted by the stunning landscapes Chile is known for. The colors of this film are very stark and at times over-saturated giving out a retro style that fits well with a film in the Western genre. Most Westerns are made with a story based in the United States but this one takes place in Chile which adds a unique feel when watching the film as it is different from the typical surroundings one would expect from an American western film. The film is not made on a huge scale but that does not deter it from being anything short of an epic.

The story takes us through the period of Chile’s history that is known for the genocidal racism-driven treatment of the indigenous people. In the opening scene, we are introduced to a bunch of English-speaking people who are putting together a wired fence. We are also introduced to Segundo (Camilo Arancibia) who is quietly working and observing others. Suddenly, a man screams in pain and falls to reveal that he has lost his hand. An English officer who is later revealed to be of Scottish origin named Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley) shows up and decides that since he has lost his hand, he is of no more use and executes him immediately. All the other men are shocked but no one even bats an eyelid. The power wielded by MacLennan is just a taste of what is yet to come. Human life has no value during the turn of the 20th Century at the southernmost tip of the continent of South America.

The Settlers

MacLennan was hired by José Menéndez (Alfredo Castro) who owned most of the land in Chile at the time. Menéndez had a problem where his sheep were not able to get to the Atlantic side of the continent. The solution he came up with involved MacLennan and his men fencing out his land and eradicating anyone in their way which mainly included the indigenous population who were living in Menéndez’s land. The level of animosity and hatred Menéndez had towards the natives stemmed from the racist thinking embedded in the people with power during that time. There is particularly no reason where this started as is the case with most places where people with power abuse and walking on the people with nothing to their name, especially in the case of the native population. We can draw parallels to American history and the hostile treatment of the native Indians but the genocidal nature of Menéndez and his family was much worse.

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MacLennan, Cowboy Bill (Benjamin Westfall), and Segundo embark on the journey to mark the path for the fences but also to rid the land of all the natives along the way. Segundo is a half breed and he does not belong to either side, but with each violent brutality that he is forced to witness, he is somehow controlling himself from unleashing his anger on MacLennan and Bill. The sadistic, barbaric violent acts performed by these men in their journey could be a hard watch for some. The director never shies away from showing everything as he wants the audience to get a crystal clear picture of what happened to the natives at that time. The film is very direct the audience is a witness in a sense to all the perverse actions of these men. Each of the three men has their own troubled past and as they are revealed slowly, they also seem to be content with whatever befalls them as a consequence of their actions. In between all the senseless killings, the beautiful grass fields with the sun gleaming away transports us to the calm, quiet, and rich vastness of the region reminding us that the land is so wide that there is no need to kill anyone or remove anyone from this land.

The Settlers

The cinematography by Simone D’Arcangelo will take your breath away as he paints each scene with a lot of confidence. Some of the scenes pay homage to the cinematography in Innarittu’s ‘The Revenant’ and Tarantino’s Western film ‘Django Unchained’ with the huge red fonts and the subtle but eerie background score. The scene of an early morning killing of natives by MacLennan and Bill is shot with such finesse with fog playing an important part in enhancing the key moments. We see Segundo struggling to decide if he should pull the trigger or not and he decides to fire his rifle in the air to give the impression that he is also killing people. He has no choice but to obey orders as Bill constantly reminds MacLennan that half-breeds can also not be trusted. The three men eventually cross paths with the Argentinian army as they reach the border and are forced to say no to the hospitality offered by veteran Scottish Colonel Martin (Sam Spruell). MacLennan is shown as a person who likes to think he is in control and commands respect but even he succumbs to the fear tactics employed by the colonel. The rest of the film takes the three men away from each other into their own paths with the story moving forward a few years ahead to connect the present with the past.

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The Settlers redefines the Western genre in a manner that could spur more movies from this genre in the coming years. It is a lesson in making films that pushes the envelope of what should or should not be shown in a film when trying to get certain actions across. Sometimes, it is best to not hide anything as it adds to the realism and authenticity of a film. The film does turn into a history lesson about colonialism and oppression towards the end albeit an important one. The final shot of the film brings the film full circle where those who suffered for many years continued to suffer quietly with all hope lost. Director Felipe Gálvez leaves no stone unturned and goes all out with his debut feature showing his commitment to the story. It also shows the creative freedom he had working on this film which should be a good motivator for young filmmakers starting their creative journey.

The Settlers is currently playing in U.S. theaters as of January 12, 2024.

The Settlers
‘The Settlers’ Review: Brutal and Bold Filmmaking At It’s Finest
4.5

Prem

Founder/Creator of Talking Films. Created Talking films back in 2009 and has been an ardent cinema lover for the past 2 decades.

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