Reviewed by Jonathan Berk
The Western is one of the most defined film genres. One element most audiences expect is a Western to be set in America as the country expands Westward. The setting of writer-director Felipe Gálvez’s new film The Settlers immediately stands out as unique for this genre. Rather than the American West, this film is set in Chile in the early 20th century. Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley), Cowboy Bill (Benjamin Westfall), and Segundo (Camilado Arancibia) are hired by a wealthy landowner (Alfredo Castro) to mark out the perimeter of his extensive property and open a route to the Atlantic Ocean across vast Patagonia.
While the setting is unique for this genre, the film features many other elements associated with it: the three men on horseback traveling the wide open plains and the wide cinematography showcasing the vast mountains and grassy fields. Of course, traditionally, the West is full of a lot more desert in many films, so the colors of the landscape cinematography in this film are noticeably different.
Another element this film shares with the genre is putting those men on horseback against the indigenous people. Part of their “job” is ridding the land of “Indians,” which is extra difficult for Segundo, as he is indicated to be a “half-blood.” It’s with this plot that the film finds some extreme brutality. Gálvez’s story does not shy away from the brutality of this process. The characters each deal with their actions in different ways. The way the film deals with each character often gets equally brutal.
The first half of the film is the strongest part. The interactions with the three men, each with distinctive personalities and traits, are by far the most compelling. Some very difficult-to-palate scenes — and how the men deal with their roles in those horrible moments — create on-screen dynamics that are hard to process. As the film progresses, the story breaks from the three main characters. It’s a sudden shift and gets into the political ramifications of the events in the movie so far. The momentum dips for a while, and it feels a little more like a history lesson than a film. There are some interesting tidbits of information, and the film’s final moments, especially the final shot, earn back some early intrigue.
Ultimately, The Settlers is a unique entry into a well-established genre. There are some quality performances from the three leads, and for those unfamiliar with Chile’s history, there is some insight into it that parallels America’s treatment of the Indigenous people. The brutality of some scenes may be more than some audiences want to deal with, so be warned.
The Settlers will be in theaters on January 12.