A second chance for OzLand

Josh Presley
Staff Writer

West Point filmmaker Michael Williams’ “OzLand” was released to an Internet near you on Tuesday and, since I allegedly double as the entertainment writer for this newspaper, I elected to give it a shot.
Full disclosure: This is my second time seeing the movie. Double full disclosure: The first time I saw it, I didn’t like it. I was in attendance for the movie’s premiere in Columbus about a year ago, and I walked out puzzled and a little frustrated.
Why didn’t I review it the first time? Simple. Michael Williams’ office is within easy choking distance of my own. However, I thought (most of) my issues with the “OzLand” were fixable, and when Michael told me he was tightening the movie up a bit, it piqued my interest. I believed there was a good movie to be found in “OzLand,” and so I took the plunge and rented this leaner, meaner version on iTunes.
“OzLand” features Zack Ratkovich and Glenn Payne as Leif and Emri, respectively, as two drifters in a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape. Leif finds a copy of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and, through reading it, begins to interpret his experiences as signs that Oz(Land) is a real place. Emri humors his companion to an extent, and might like to believe the fantasy, but remains grounded and skeptical.
Despite never explaining the nature of their relationship, the movie is driven by the dynamic between Leif and Emri. The lack of explanation is one of “OzLand’s” greatest assets, as Williams allows you to fill in the blanks yourself. They could be brothers, lovers or figments of the other’s imagination. They could be strangers — in one of the film’s few hints at a backstory, Emri previously lived with his father — but they’re together now and trying to make their way in what’s left of the world. Emri is the big brother, protective and levelheaded. Leif is the dreamer who likely wouldn’t survive this world on his own. The two are lost boys, childlike in their demeanor.
Payne anchors the movie as Emri and, with his grizzled yet kind face, is an unconventional leading man, yet the role suits him just fine. He’s the closest thing to an audience proxy, and his protectiveness and eventual frustration with Leif was captivating to watch.
Leif, on the other hand, is a much more frustrating character, and Ratkovich played the role with a little too much wide-eyed innocence for my tastes. He seems out of place in this world, which may be the point, but I found him increasingly intolerable as the movie wore on.
Now, for the other two main characters of the movie: the landscape and the music. Even if you hated “OzLand,” which I certainly didn’t, you can’t possibly deny that it is beautifully filmed. Williams, who served as the film’s cinematographer in addition to writing and directing, demonstrates the eye of someone who’s been doing this much longer than he has. He’s certainly helped by some absolutely stunning scenery.
The music, from Louisville native Keatzi Gunmoney, demonstrated a bit of outside-the-box thinking, and was melancholy without being dour. It’s a soulful, blue collar score that was in my head long after the movie was over.
There’s so much more about this movie I could talk about, and that is ultimately the allure of “OzLand.” I enjoyed the parts more than the sum, but I enjoyed those parts a great deal. It’s exciting to think what Williams might do next time, and the time after that.