The Settlers Review

Imagine this scenario: You work in the Tierra del Fuego and are digging holes for the fence the wealthy landowner is setting up. As you go about your duties, one of your fellow workers has an accident with the wire that is being tightened around the fence. As you watch in horror as this person is bleeding you notice the overseer of the project rides up on their horse to the injured co-worker. What happens next is something that you did not expect and sets the tone for Felipe Gálvez’s The Settlers.

In this turn-of-the-century story, Segundo, played by Camilo Arancibia, is a mestizo marksman paired with a British lieutenant and an American mercenary to “clear” the lands for the wealthy landowner. While this seems like a straightforward job, Segundo, soon learns what “clearing the land” means and what or better yet who is being cleared. The dilemma of doing what you must to keep your job and doing what is right weighs heavily on Segundo each day they are clearing the land.

What The Settlers does greatly on film is show us a dark side of history that is barely shown on the screen. Stories of lands being stolen are usually met with resistance but as we have seen recently with Killers of the Flowe Moon these are stories that need to be told. Segundo puts the audience in the thick of it and shows us how he must go against his feelings to survive each day. Segundo is told that he is expendable by British Lieutenant Alexander MacLennan, played by Mark Stanley. MacLennan has no issue killing for his boss and we see it multiple times throughout the movie. MacLennan is the alpha male in the movie until he meets another and makes a deal that brings him down a peg. (No pun intended).

Riding along with the two men is Bill, played by Benjamin Westfall, who is the brash American gun for hire. The two men show their status to Segundo riding on the land and it always feels like they are a second away from killing him. Segundo, which means “second” in Spanish, is always reminded of his status by the two men and at times he has to do what the men ask him to just to survive.

Through a series of events, we see the line that Segundo is pushed to. After Alex and Bill have had their way with an Indigenous lady they make Segundo go after them. What happens in this moment shows us that while he is leading these men through this meaningless slaughter he will not turn evil like them. Segundo mercilessly frees this young lady and returns to the two men.

For a movie that is filled with horrible moments, Gálvez gives us some amazing imagery that at times looks like it could be a painting. The exquisite landscapes fill the screen and are a great juxtaposition to the terrible images you saw a moment ago. One of the most incredible scenes for me is a shootout in a smokey forest. What stood out is the image that Segundo sees amidst the chaos.

The movie is broken down into three chapters: El Mestizo, El Fin Del Mundo, and El Chanco Colorado. The third chapter takes place seven years later and we see the huge estate of the wealthy landowner, José Menéndez, played by Alfredo Castro. Menéndez is visited and questioned about the procurement of the land and the methods of Lieutenant MacLennan. Menéndez gives them the location of Segundo and he is interviewed about what happened.

The final moments and images of this film are something that will stay with you long after the movie is over. Again, how the land was taken from the natives is both brutal and terrible to see. Witnessing it through the eyes of Segundo is filtered in a sense but when he describes the evils of MacLennan and Bill those filters are removed and the images are burned into our brains. Segundo is a changed man due to this journey and the audience has changed along with him.

Final Thoughts: The Settlers shows the horrors of man taking claim to land that is not theirs. We see through the eyes of Segundo as he helps “remove” people from their land for José Menéndez. Segundo slowly realizes that the job he was volunteered for will take him on a dark path he might not recover from. As beautiful as the scenery is, The Settlers shows us the dark side of man.

Kid-Friendly: Although the topic of genocide is one that kids may encounter in history class, seeing it on film may be a little intense for some. Due to the film’s violent nature, I would recommend it for kids 16 and up.

Violence: There are brutal killing scenes in the movie along with implied scenes of rape. The Settlers does not shy away from showing the horrors of man as they claim land that is not theirs.

At the turn of the 20th century, three horsemen embark on an expedition across the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the behest of a wealthy landowner, tasked with securing his vast state-appointed property. Accompanying a reckless British lieutenant and an American mercenary is mestizo marksman Segundo, who comes to realize, amidst rising tensions within the group, their true mission is to murderously “remove” the indigenous population.

Set against stunning mountain landscapes, Chile’s Best International Feature Film entry to the 96th Academy Awards is a visceral reckoning with national myth and the attendant violence. Painterly yet piercing, this acclaimed frontier epic turns a bold eye to the past, daring to reimagine its depiction in the present and for the future.

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