- The Settlers is a Western period piece that explores the dark side of Western expansionism and is not for the faint of heart.
- The film’s stylistic choices, including the 4×3 aspect ratio and striking color palette, enhance its artistic impact, and the three main actors are fantastic.
- The storyline sheds light on universal issues of power and colonialism and challenges the way history is told, leaving viewers wanting more from this gritty and stylish film.
“Do you want to be a part of this nation?” No, this quote isn’t ripped from a recent speech by any one of the modern-day politicians out there. It may or may not be the final line uttered in The Settlers, Chile’s submission for Best International Feature Film at this year’s highly anticipated Academy Awards. It’s already scooped up accolades at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, and rightfully so. Don’t let the seemingly innocuous title fool you: You’re in for a disturbing experience featuring grotesque violence, rape, true love, colonialism, and more. Yes, The Settlers hits both ends of the emotional spectrum and virtually everything in between.
A Dynamic Trio Shakes You to the Core
- Release Date
- January 12, 2024
- Felipe Gálvez Haberle
- Mark Stanley , Marcelo Alonso , Alfredo Castro , Sam Spruell
- 97 min
- Stunning cinematography and production design recreates the past.
- Excellent acting from the main trio of men.
- A harrowing portrait of colonialism and how history is written.
- A brutal and depressing film that’s not for everyone.
Debut writer-director Felipe Gálvez enters the scene of acclaimed modern Westerns with a searing take on the coveted film genre. It’s a period piece that takes us back to the turn of the 20th century as three horsemen venture across the Tierra del Fuego archipelago with the daunting task of securing the vast property of a wealthy landowner named José Menéndez (Alfredo Castro).
The trio consists of a hotheaded British lieutenant named Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley), a wild-card American mercenary named Bill (Benjamin Westfall), and a mixed-race marksman named Segundo (a standout Camilo Arancibia). If you’ve seen acclaimed works like Lawless (2012), The Revenant (2015), and HBO’s Deadwood, you’ll simply eat up the free-for-all nature of this savage society along the Southern border. The year is 1901, and we start in Chile, a uniquely refreshing setting that’s both picturesque and eerie, especially given the events that soon transpire…
The film begins with a striking, blood-red title card displaying a thought-provoking quote about sheep rising up and eating men, from Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). These titles continue throughout the film, an effective technique as each serves an artistic purpose to the storytelling (rather than simply providing expository details). Another title card later in the film, for example, reads “The King of the White Gold,” which should honestly be the title of another feature film altogether.
Other noticeable stylistic choices include the 4×3-type aspect ratio (versus the standard widescreen we’re more accustomed to), a haunting soundtrack that purposefully sounds like someone is mashing their piano, and that color scheme. Several of the exterior desert scenes make the trio look as if they’re literally painted onto the screen, as if we’re admiring their journey from the comfort of a prestigious art gallery.
The Settlers Blends Grittiness with Art
And on that note, the three guys are simply irresistible to watch, even if two out of three of them are quite horrible individuals. Westfall, who resembles a mix of SNL alumni Beck Bennett and Tim Robinson, is terrifying as the American marksman who keeps reminding boss MacLennan not to trust Segundo simply because he isn’t white. This marks another highlight of The Settlers, that its historically distant storyline still sheds light on modern-day political issues currently plaguing societies in the U.S. and around the world.
Out of the three, Segundo is arguably the one to watch. Despite little dialogue, his striking eyes radiating fury and intensity almost cut the silver screen in half as he watches his Caucasian companions bro out with other hotheaded settlers along the way. Perhaps it’s because Segundo is slowly discovering their journey’s ultimate goal: to kill as much of the Indigenous population along the way as needed. It’s a misanthropic, chilling portion of The Settlers, leading to a sequence set in foggy terrain as they hunt a small population of harmless Natives. The pair of white men proceed to line up the countless dead bodies, slice off their ears as a sort of morbid memorabilia, and even take turns forcing themselves onto a helpless captive woman who’s still alive.
If anyone’s been watching the latest season of FX’s Fargo, they’ll recognize acclaimed character actor Sam Spruell when his character, Colonel Martin, enters the story in the terrifying third act. He’s introduced with a daunting title card accompanying the moment that reads, “The ends of the earth.” “Have some f*cking self-respect!” he screams at MacLennan after impulsively shooting one of his men out of nowhere. Martin has invited MacLennan and his travel companions to dine and stay with them on their beachside property for the night, but it all goes to hell as we slowly learn of Martin’s ulterior motives.
Then, the plot abruptly — but with successfully dramatic effect — jumps seven years into the future, where we meet the more grown-up Segundo “settled” down with his wife Kiepja (the excellent Mishell Guaña). Chilean officials are discussing the controversial antics of one Alexander MacLennan from years earlier, and one of them, an inquisitive leader named Vicuña (Marcelo Alonso), is even able to track down Segundo to try and learn more. Interestingly, the jaw-dropping story Segundo recounts isn’t even one that we’ve witnessed.
And it’s here that the film continues to strike a nerve in us modern storytellers, as most of the history we’ve come to know was taught to us by stories we’ve read on a page and simply heard by others. It’s a masterful turn that interrogates the idea of settlers, foundations, and the people who write history. Whether it’s a quiet moment of Segundo telling an anecdote or seeing the white settlers do horrific deeds to the Indigenous community, The Settlers will leave you floored and perhaps wanting more from such a stylish and gritty end result.
From MUBI, The Settlers is now playing in U.S. theaters. Check out the trailer below: