In 2013, both inside and outside of Horror circles, the buzz surrounding Escape from Tomorrow, a movie filmed at Disney World and Disney Land clandestinely, hit a fever pitch, making it perhaps the most exalted and revered indie since The Blair Witch Project. It found a place on just about every Horror critic’s Best of 2013 List, becoming a nearly instantaneous cult classic. Film fans and practitioners alike marveled at writer/director Randy Moore‘s revolutionary spirit and brazen audacity; one journalists in particular opined Escape from Tomorrow is a film that “should not exist by any rational definition. And yet… not only does it exist, it’s fascinating”. But hype can be a double-edged sword, creating excitement but also bolstering expectations. In the case of Escape from Tomorrow, so much attention has been focused on the guerilla filmmaking tactics employed (not to mention the unbelievable fact that Disney didn’t sue Moore’s balls off) that the back-story can definitely overshadow the film itself. Respect for a filmmaker’s abilities doesn’t always translate to a crowd pleasing final product (Kevin Smith’s Red State comes to mind). Let’s not be so dazzled by the fascinating production achievements that we forget to take a long hard look at the story within.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father’s sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday.
As a native of Southern California who grew up visiting Disney Land from time to time, Escape from Tomorrow really struck a chord in me–especially its portrayal of the seedy underbelly that lurks beneath the surface of these iconic theme parks. The supposed “Happiest Place on Earth” is filled with pushy crowds, endless lines, crying kids, bickering couples, expensive food, monotonous music and more. Sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. Still, millions flock to Disney Land and Disney World every year, drawn by some inexplicable sense of nostalgia. It’s a mystery to me.
What Disney Land really offers its visitors is an altered and tightly controlled version of reality; essentially, it’s nothing more than artificial happiness. Escape from Tomorrow holds a cruel mirror up to the face of these fantasy parks and the who frequent them. It offers definitive proof by example that thrill rides and animatronic animals do little to ease the oppressions of the outside world: Jobs, relationships, finances, depression, and on and on. It also illustrates the pressure this environment creates–the pressure to be happy in spite of whatever actual traumas are waiting back in reality. Maintaining this mask of happiness proves too much for Jim (Roy Abramsohn) who, on the last day of his family’s vacation, gets word that he’s being laid off. Unable show his disappointment outwardly, Jim eventually cracks under the stress (with horrific results).
Jim’s character is extremely complex and problematic. While we might sympathize with him for the pressure he endures, viewers have little sympathy for this unlikely protagonist. Besides being brutish, drunk, and inconsiderate, he’s an undeniable predator. Throughout the film, Jim becomes obsessed with a couple of French Teenagers who are also vacationing in the park. While he never crosses any lines, his desires are obvious and the way he blatantly stalks them (even in front of his wife and kids) is troubling to say the least.
Escape from Tomorrow skillfully exploits existing rumors about The Magic Kingdom (decapitations on rides, “fake” turkey legs) while adding to the theme-park’s perverse mythology. The film is most brazen when it purports that the young ladies who dress as Disney Princesses are actually high-priced escorts who cater to rich foreign businessmen. This, and other surrealist twists of reality permeate the entire movie. Add hallucinations, a mystery illness, and off-kilter side characters (the overweight man in the Rascel, the Evil Queen, the Scientist, the Crying Nurse and others) and you have all the ingredients necessary for a waking nightmare. The fact that Jim’s wife Emily (Elena Schuber) also starts hallucinating towards the film’s climax is proof that, while Jim may be particularly susceptible to the park’s darker elements, he’s not the only one effected by the pressures of maintaining extreme and artificial happiness. In this sense, Escape from Tomorrow serves as a warning for those with escapist tendencies.
Thematically, Escape from Tomorrow is rich in subtext. It examines the illusions of perfection and happiness by posing almost profane juxtapositions. While it doesn’t maintain a feeling of dread throughout (like most successful Horror offerings) the final Act of the film is extremely disturbing and utterly captivating. While Jim and Em are fascinating character studies, the real stars of Escape from Tomorrow are the children, Elliot and Sara (played by Jack Dalton and Katelynn Rodriguez respectively) who are both charming and unnerving–absolutely integral to the film’s success. I also quite enjoyed the Evil Queen (or “The Other Woman” as she’s referred to in the credits) played by Alison Lees-Taylor.
So does Escape from Tomorrow live up to its hype? Yes and no. It’s definitely an amazing film and a brilliant debute for Moore, but it lacks the emotional intensity of most Horror movies. Fans of experimental cinema will love it, but those who crave something with teeth may find Escape from Tomorrow lacks bite.
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Randy Moore|
|Produced by||Soojin Chung
|Written by||Randy Moore|
|Music by||Abel Korzeniowski|
|Cinematography||Lucas Lee Graham|
|Editing by||Soojin Chung|
|Distributed by||Producers Distribution Agency|