If there is one thing I find myself constantly championing for with independent cinema these days; it’s ambition.
Something of a double edged sword because ambition can make or break a lot of people. If you have too much ambition and fall short, the film can be a major letdown.
On the other hand if you play it to safe and just dial things in with typical shots, boring narratives and unpredictable story beats, then you run the risk of being dull.
It’s all about finding that sweet spot of ambition coupled with substance. In the case of Ozland, we have a movie that falls somewhat short of finding that sweet spot.
Writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor Michael Williams (this is truly a remarkable feat) takes on the classic tale of The Wizard of Oz. Keep in mind this is a far cry from the classic that most people know and love.
It focuses on two men, Leif (Zack Ratkovich) and Emri (Glenn Payne), wandering a desolate, post-apocalyptic middle America where everyone else has “turned to dust”.
Not a ton is given as to the events predating the films starting point, but this sort of intentional ambiguity winds up working in the films favor to create an eerie yet oddly beautiful tone.
The two men wander around, mostly heading west to try and find civilization/survivors/whatever keeps them moving forward. On the journey, Leif becomes obsessed with a copy of The Wizard of Oz book and constantly reads and interprets it to an illiterate Emri.
In these moments, we are seeing Ozland’s subtle world and themes come to life.
This is an interesting tale of loneliness and finding the will to carry on, but that often gets drowned out in moments of either blatant melodrama, or trying to hard moments of pretty cinematography with little substance.
At 105 minutes long, the biggest complaint I have about the film is it’s runtime. In most ways, the film would have benefitted greatly in either a reduction in runtime (at least 15 minutes), or to go all out and uncover a out a wonderful short film that is likely buried here.
Much of my uneasiness began in the first 30-45 minutes before some of the more Oz inspired aspects come into play. A visit from a flying monkey is shot particularly effective for such a low budget film. (Note to indie filmmakers: Don’t let a low budget dictate everything you can’t do. Take chances.)
One of the biggest highlights for me was when we got to see Williams’ version of the Tin Man. However, I glimpsed that aforementioned short film lurking beneath the surface during that scene.
One thing that may have benefitted the film, is if Leif were recast as a younger boy. At times his lines seemed to be written for a character much younger and can come off weirdly unrealistic. Ratkovich did the best he could with the material but the performance wound up feeling awkward for about 75% of the time.
Payne on the other hand is perfectly cast as the solemn, softer spoken Emri. Such characters have become staples of these kind of films, but I feel like it worked immensely well here. I was never 100% sure if the two men were meant to be brothers, but either way they had a natural chemistry.
The strongest moments in Ozland are simply the two of them sitting and talking. I love slow burn films and the two of them reminded me of how great a film can be, big or small, when it’s just two people simply communicating.
By the end of Ozland I found myself feeling mostly a variety emotions. It’s not an amazing film, but Williams’ eye for splendid outdoor imagery and subtle, effective direction make this an interesting film in it’s own right.
Ozland isn’t something I’d recommend seeking out immediately, but not one I’d go so far as to skip completely. If nothing else, it shows a bright young talent who will undoubtedly do a lot more with greater resources.
I’ll be keeping an eye on him for sure.
Ozland is an ambitious film, albeit not a 100 percent successful one.
Currently on iTunes/Vudu/GooglePlay and other streaming services.