Directed by Michael Williams
Starring Zack Ratkovich and Glenn Payne
Indie Film Review by Phil Slatter
OzLand opens with a shot of two men – Emri (Glenn Payne) and Leif (Zack Ratkovich) walking through what turns out to be a desolate wasteland. It’s fair to say that this is largely what comprises much of Michael Williams unique post-apocalyptic film as there is little by way of plot development beyond the two characters main journey of survival. Yet while this makes demands of the audience, where OzLand works by Williams painting a rich tapestry on human existence with deeply philosophical overtones.
We learn little of who Emri and Leif actually are, where they have come from or what global event has caused them to be seemingly the last people on earth. Emri is the more paternal of the two yet Leif is the only one of the pair who can read – a fact that becomes crucial when he discovers a discarded book of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’. With a sense of childlike wonder, Leif is fascinated by the tale and comes to believe it as true – he is scared of flying monkeys, prepared for the witch and wants to find Oz to provide the happiness both men seek. It becomes an almost religious belief in the books story as reality, providing purpose and meaning to a desolate life while Leif interprets everyday occurrences as evidence supporting his manifested beliefs. Emri is more agnostic, and while he feels compelled not to indulge Leif’s ideas, he is at least open to them having to entrust himself due to his own illiteracy. It may appear that events will struggle for an ending, but the fusion of the story of the film and the story of the book come the climax is smart – we never see what is behind the curtain and it’s left open as to whether Leif does or not.
It’s a very original take on the post-apocalyptic genre, with a structural similarity to John Hillcoat’s The Road but none of its bleakness. Williams punctuates the film with a brilliant acoustic soundtrack courtesy of Keatzi Gunmoney, and the cinematography is remarkable, even taking into account the small budget and outdoor setting.
The demands on the two actors to hold centre stage for the film's entire running time do take their toll at times when the performances occasionally fall flat, while the lack of development to the central story can strain the patience.
Yet OzLand remains an original work that draws on a beloved and well known text in a unique and smart way. Williams takes many of the off camera roles but rarely drops the ball, creating something heartfelt and thought-provoking, pulling on the notion that all stories are true and that some of them actually happened.