Greatland (2020)

A teenager finds the world he grew up in is not at all what it seems in this dystopian sci-fi action-drama from writer-director Dana Ziyasheva.

Ulysses is a teen in the world of Greatland, where the customs range from worshipping a dog, Jorg Doberman, to new “babies” being born via a gift from the Mother. It is Ulysses’ 15th birthday, which means he is set to enjoy fatherhood and must attend a ceremony. He is waiting for his tokens of love to commit to the world of the Altruists, who despite a virus plaguing the world, will do what it takes to achieve immortality. Ulysses meets friend Ugly Duck, who was the result of a “stone age” union between Mr. Lee and a human woman, who gives him a book for his birthday. However, he cannot accept it because it is too prehistoric for Greatland.

Ulysses slowly rebels against Mother and starts to receive clues that his “father” may not be dead after all. When Ugly Duck is kidnapped by the Altruists and sent to Repentance Island, Ulysses is determined to rescue her. It is there where he meets the Clerk, who tells Ulysses that not only is Greatland not exactly what appears on the surface, but delivers a shocking secret to him as well. Run by the Alpha Altruist, Greatland exists based on false beliefs. When Ulysses realizes what is going on, he makes a choice destined to change his life forever.

For writer-director Dana Ziyasheva, she has created a very interesting film that has this weird dystopian feel to it along with enhanced colors and visuals that would make the strange-like spaced out fans most proud. She engages the viewer on a visual trip, as if played out like an experimental film for a good portion of it until things slowly devolve into a shocking reality for the third act, which shows level of violence that was a bit unexpected.

Arman Darbo, who I interviewed for the film And Now I Go in 2018, takes center stage as the non-binary Ulysses, who spends his time seeing his half-brother who is in love with a plant and sees Mr. Lee (who is ironically invisible) and his daughter Ugly Duck. What drives the film is the chemistry between Darbo and Chloe Ray Warmouth as Ugly Duck as she resorts to simplistic things such as baking a cake and reading a book, things considered “stone age”. That’s how crazy this film is. When the people of Greatland choose between worshipping a dog or a cat, and in the case of Ulysses, his child being a rabbit, then you know you’re in for a major trip. Something that L.A.-based rock band Fancy Space People would be proud to be involved in, if they were in the film.

It is when Ulysses finds himself on Repentance Island that things get real and where we get two icons in the forms of Nick Moran and Eric Roberts appearing in the film. Moran plays the Clerk, who becomes Ulysses’s guide and mentor in learning the truth about Greatland. Of course, the shocking secret most likely will come as no surprise. As for Eric Roberts, he makes the most of his screen time as Greatland leader The Alpha Altruist with Jackie Loeb giving an over the top performance as Mother. Things go from laughable in a funny way to stuff getting real in the final moments, where the violence gets a bit amped up but a somewhat refreshing finale in a very insane world.

Greatland is a wild, definitely wacky, and both a fun and crazy look into what a dystopian world can look like with excellent performances by Arman Darbo and Chloe Ray Warmouth. The duo are the driving forces of the film with great support by Nick Moran and Eric Roberts.

WFG RATING: B

Indie Rights presents a Popcorn and Friends production. Director: Dana Ziyasheva. Producer: Igor Darbo. Writer: Dana Ziyasheva. Cinematography: Charles Schner. Editing: Brad McLaughlin and Michael Piniero.

Cast: Arman Darbo, Chloe Ray Warmouth, Nick Moran, J.P. Manoux, Bill Oberst Jr., Eric Roberts, Jackie Loeb, Shannon Briggs (voice), Storm Wilbur.

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