Review: Escape From Tomorrow
PLOT: A man on vacation at Disneyworld with his family begins to have strange hallucinations and experiences; is he losing his mind, or is there something more sinister at work from within the park?
REVIEW: The notion that spending a day, or several days, at Disneyworld can be a nauseating, even nightmarish experience isn't quite a fresh one, but director Randy Moore has taken the park's more irritating aspects - the lines, the grubby tourists, the ever-chanting muzak - and twisted them into something thoroughly surreal with ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, which depicts one man's descent into madness at the Most Magical Place on Earth.
Perhaps you know the backstory by now: Moore shot almost an entire film at Disneyworld without permission; impressive enough, but the kicker is that his film is a complete slap in Disney's face, lampooning the sickly-sweet atmosphere of the theme park while highlighting its brazen consumerist priorities. Again, Moore won't get any prizes for telling us something we already know, and Disney is an easy target that lends itself to slings and arrows, but the fact that the director was able to construct his satire/psychological thriller within the comfort of the park, and is now getting to release the picture with no evident protests on Disney's behalf, is pretty cool.
But is it a good film or just a good piece of experimental theater? That's a tough issue; sometimes it's both, but more often than not, it's more the latter. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW gets you talking more about the "how did he do that?" aspect of the behind-the-scenes saga more than it ignites passionate discussion on the plot itself. Indeed, the next time I watch the film, it will be with audio commentary, because the backstory is certainly more fascinating than the finished product.
The movie is the tormented saga of Jim White (Roy Abramsohn), a pudgy midwest type spending the last day of a family vacation at Disneyworld in Orlando. As soon as we meet him, Jim is fired over the phone by his boss and locked out of his hotel room by his son (Jack Dalton). Obviously, it's going to be a trying day. Just how trying Jim can't even begin to suspect, however, because almost immediately he begins to experience strange visions (the "It's a Small World" ride's singing figures sprout demonic smiles). Added to that, his wife (Elena Schuber) is increasingly frustrated by his flighty memory and tendency to let his eyes wander, especially when it comes to two teenage French girls he repeatedly sees.
Jim's hellish day is exacerbated when he encounters a few strange individuals: a bloated tourist (who rides on one of those carts because he can't hold up his own weight) whom Jim fears is stalking him; a bizarre, seductive woman who used to be a Disney park princess and now lives out uber-freaky fantasies; and ultimately, a scientist who works under Space Mountain as part of some kind of nefarious mind-control program Disney has been utilizing for years.
Though it may sound like a lot goes on in ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, the film doesn't actually have a "story", and we're often just plodding around the park with Jim as he struggles to corral his children and his own worst instincts whenever he sees those teenage girls. (His obsession with them is quite creepy, and it should be noted that Jim earns very little sympathy from us throughout the film.) However, there's a mounting curiosity Moore builds, as we wonder just where the hell all of this is going, or indeed if there is a point to the proceedings at all beyond the prank of the endeavor. Moore doesn't quite stick the finish - the movie's third act is a series of inscrutable sequences that even David Lynch would scratch his head over - and a nagging thought eventually takes over: ESCAPE would be even more interesting if the story had genuine drama.
The film is gorgeously shot by Lucas Lee Graham, and the decision to use black & white gives Disneyworld a "Twilight Zone" like vibe that is beneficial to the story's ever deepening sense of madness. (Disneyworld looks a lot let magical without color.) Impressive too is the moody score by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. The actors, while not exactly natural, are up to the task at hand, and Abramsohn makes Jim's immature dad engaging even as we're increasingly put off by his selfish, ridiculous behavior.
While it's admittedly frustrating that ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW isn't the knockout I wanted it to be, there's no doubt that I have to recommend it to the fans of experimental films and movie oddities. You may not walk away talking about how great it is, but you will definitely be talking about it.