ReviewsTelevision & Film

GALE: STAY AWAY FROM OZ is a Tornado of Fun

Gale Stay Away From Oz (2023)
Written by Daniel Alexander and Matthew R. Ford
Produced by Daniel Alexander and Tenisha White
Directed by Daniel Alexander

Unrated

Gale: Stay Away from Oz, written and directed by Daniel Alexander, is a short film, running under thirty minutes. It clearly isn’t an entire movie, concluding with “To be continued”, but represents a proof of concept of sorts. It had a lot to celebrate, as well as some less-than needed attempts at jump-scares and what I’ll call atmosphere.

From the trailer, it’s clear that Gale is intended as a sequel to The Wizard of Oz, reimagined as a horror story, and at that, this short film doesn’t disappoint.

Emily Gale (played by Chloë Crump) is a young woman who, while going through her deceased mother’s belongings, stumbles upon a hand-written book entitled Oz. Although the camera never lingers long enough on any page, it is clearly the scribblings of a disturbed mind. Accompanied by creaking rocking chairs, flickering lights, and a loud, panicking score, it’s clear something scary is happening. These phenomena are never actually explained, and are—in my opinion—wholly unnecessary, lending an “over the top” nature to the film.

Emily is in therapy, and her doctor is a bit aggressive, almost to the point of pushing Emily to relive terrifying dreams to “get to the bottom of things” without explanation. The therapist, with her sharp features and dark eyes, is the film’s representation of the Wicked Witch of the West, and while her therapy doesn’t accomplish much for Emily, the dream sequences blur the lines with what are/might be actual moments until no one can be certain what is the dream and what is real.

On the last page of the Oz journal, Emily finds a phone number and the name Dorothy Gale. She calls the number and discovers that Dorothy is her grandmother. Visiting her, Emily encounters the administrator who runs the facility that houses Dorothy—and only Dorothy. A kindly woman who does not appear old enough to have been caring for Dorothy for over forty years. Played by Clara Emanuel, Doctor North represents the cardinal direction usually associated with Glinda, the good witch. She tells Emily that the book she discovered was Dorothy’s first draft as writing the story that made her famous and wealthy. Now, a broken, old woman, Dorothy’s ankles are bloody because she endlessly snaps them together. Played by Karen Swan, Dorothy is nearly catatonic but responds to Emily’s touch by warning her granddaughter to “Stay away from Oz!”

Emily’s continued therapy sessions reveal more horror imagery, painted faces and contorted bodies scurrying about. Her therapist demands Emily hand over her sparkling slippers, as they are the key to returning to Oz. Emily taps her heels three times—repeating Dorothy’s famous catchphrase about home—and finds herself on a hillside overlooking a lush valley. She is greeted by Doctor North, who has something to show her, and the film concludes.

There’s an idea, that the players of Oz have all suffered trauma and were scattered about the real world, to deal with the fallout of whatever happened when Dorothy visited. They all seem to be seeking a means of return. This idea was fascinating and very well done. While the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, represented the fantasy land as a technicolor wonder, a place where scarecrows walk, trees threaten people with apples, and monkeys fly could be just as terrifying, that thought seems to be where this movie gets its horror roots.

However, the creepy images, flickering lights, and jump scares were unnecessary and took away from the story for me. I realize this is intended as a horror piece and at under thirty minutes, building the tension needed to be truly terrifying would be challenging to pull off well. I am hopeful the horror cliché moments were substitutions for that tension and not in lieu of them.

Gale: Stay Away from Oz is a fun proof of concept, and while I hope it doesn’t represent the actual first thirty minutes of that film, I think it’s worth checking out for what it is. I have high hopes for the final film. There is so much more to the story, such as the trauma suffered by Dorothy and the other Oz-based characters, that the film will be so much more interesting if the jump scares are left behind in Kansas.

Jason Nadler

grew up consuming a nutritious diet of Barker and King, Clarke and Asimov. Supplements of Star Wars and Star Trek, Conan and Highlander. Snacks included Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, Amazing Stories and Twilight Zone. It doesn't matter if it's aliens, dragons, body snatchers, witches or wizards, a compelling story is what he's after. When not impersonating an adult, he can often be found reading, watching shows or movies, and occasionally travelling. Oh, and writing. Lots of writing! He's written several speculative fiction and fantasy novels. Look for JH Nadler on most major platforms.

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