Gale: Stay Away from Oz (2023) Review
Emily Gale (Chloë Crump, Do You See It Too?, Do Something, Jake) has been having nightmares which may be related to her mother’s death. Her psychiatrist Dr. North (Laura Bailey) isn’t much help, especially when it comes to the biggest question of all, the identity of Dorothy, whom characters in her dreams mention.
And then, as if by magic, she finds something among her mother’s belongings. It’s a notebook belonging to her grandmother Dorothy Gale (Karen Swan, Guilty Pleasures). And, as it turns out, she’s still alive, although confined to a nursing home. Emily makes arrangements to visit, but that may raise more questions than it answers.
Director Daniel Alexander (Different Breed, Dominant Species) also provided the story that Matthew R. Ford (Bait, Safely to Shore) turned into a script that shows a side of Oz that I haven’t seen since Walter Murch traumatized kids, and more than a few of their parents, with Return to Oz. It, like the Oz of Gale, is a much darker and horrific place than the song and dance filled land of Disney’s film.
This is not to say that Gale: Stay Away from Oz is a cheap horror take on the original along the lines of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey or The Mean One. Rather than turning a child’s fantasy into a gruesome tale, Alexander and Ford emphasize the darker elements already present in it. And while I’m not overly familiar with the later books, even The Wizard of Oz had witches, evil flying monkeys, a character crushed under a falling house, etc. I’m actually surprised this approach hasn’t been taken more often, it seems a more logical twist than a film like the Aussie musical Twentieth Century Oz, which turns innocent Dorothy into a sixteen-year-old groupie.
In the world of Gale: Stay Away from Oz, Dorothy was the author of the Oz novels, but now she sits slamming her heels together till they bleed if she isn’t stopped. Her current condition is the result of her encounters with Oz and its inhabitants. And things she left unresolved are now reaching out for Emily, and Dorothy warns her “Stay away from Oz”. In fact, those are the only words she says.
It won’t come as much of a shock that Dr. North and the administrator of Dorothy’s residence (Clara Emanuel, Marla, Myself and I Present…, Jason Bourne) correspond to the good and evil witches from the original, although which witch is which may be a surprise. There’s also a reference to The Nome King, which would place the events of this after the events of The Wizard of Oz, making it a sequel rather than a reboot.
There are only three actual characters, and all of the actresses do a good job of portraying them. And despite only having one scene and one phrase to repeat over and over, Karen Swan, in only her second role, does a great job of expressing Dorothy’s torment with her eyes and facial expressions. As well as directing, Daniel Alexander splits the role of cinematographer with Terrence Wilkins (Milk & Cookies, Search Party). They do an excellent job, giving the film’s night, and nightmare, scenes plenty of atmosphere and a few jump scares.
Clocking in at twenty-eight minutes, Gale is obviously a proof of concept for a feature film, and as such it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It doesn’t leave you lost however, there’s enough revealed that you can understand where the story leaves off, and the general direction of where the story will go. It also left me with a definite interest in seeing the journey down this road, even if it is dirt rather than yellow brick.
Gale: Stay Away from Oz premieres on Chilling today, Sept 18th.