Review: Escape From Tomorrow (Sundance 2013)
PLOT: A newly unemployed father, on vacation with his wife and two kids at Disney World, begins to lose his sanity over the course of their final day at the park. But is he really crazy, or is something sinister going on in the so-called “happiest place on earth”?
REVIEW: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is a film I'm thoroughly convinced will never see the light of day. Heck- just the fact that it exists at all is a miracle. Despite having only had it's world premiere a week ago, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is already infamous. The press notes and description in the press program were very careful not to give away the fact that ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is all about Disney World, due to the fact that Disney's lawyers will inevitably try to bury the film. Even if this does happen, it'll no doubt be a film that will be traded all over the internet, so no matter what, audiences will get to see what all the fuss is about, whether through illicit means or not.
Actually, underground distribution via the internet is probably a fair fate for the film, which was all illegally shot on location at Disney World, with the actors interacting with real tourists, and capturing tons and tons of copyrighted music and imagery. Written and directed by Randy Moore- and obviously heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick films, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW obviously can't really be separated from it's “shot at Disney” gimmick, and probably wouldn't have been all that noteworthy had it been shot at a fake amusement park. Then again, hanging a film on a gimmick is hardly a new thing, and it can't be denied this is a great one.
The whole idea of a patriarch teetering on the verge of insanity on a family vacation has certainly been done before. NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION memorably satirized Disney with Wally World, while “The Simpsons” did it twice, once with Duff Gardens, and again with Itchy & Scratchy Land. But- making it Disney, a familiar location from all of our childhoods, gives this a provocative edge.
Still, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is less a critique of Disney's commercialism than a drugged up fever-dream, which takes a sharp turn into surrealism once the patriarch (memorably played by Roy Abramsohn) takes his family on the already creepy “It's a Small World” ride- where the characters become grotesquely deformed and nightmarish via CGI. It's interesting that the thing that sparks Abramsohn's decent is his loss of a job, with the idea being that as he's now struggling to support his family, he's somehow lost his virility. Even without telling his wife, she begins to brow-beat him into submission at every turn, while he simultaneously becomes obsessed with two teenaged girls, who he follows all over the park. Things get REALLY weird in the last half hour- after a strange intermission, where the psychedelic imagery is ratched up to absolutely insane levels- most of it centered around the already kinda creepy looking Epcot Center. If it all sounds absolutely mental that's only because it is.
Lucky for me, I enjoy completely surreal, insane films- and I'm sure there's going to be a stoner audience out there that's going to be absolutely blown away by this. Again- I'm not sure there would be much of a movie without the gimmick that it was shot on location at Disney, but from a purely technical standpoint it's brilliant. While they probably used a lot of hidden, hand-held cameras, ESCAPE has a polish that never makes it look like we're watching stolen footage. Shooting in black & white (which adds to the surrealism and other-worldliness of the film), director Moore has made a beautiful film, which is made to look like it was shot on 35mm film, with scratches and soft-focus, although this probably would have been impossible from a technical standpoint. The soundtrack is also great, with clever use of source music and score.
Again- ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW may never see the light of day, but it will certainly become some kind of cult classic somewhere down the line- providing that Disney doesn't somehow manage to destroy every copy in existence. If by some miracle, the producers are able to get this out by using the artistic freedom of expression argument- it's a must see. I'm not saying it's a particularly great film, but it's a fascinating, and maybe even important one. One thing's for sure- anyone who sees it will never look at Epcot the same way again.