Review | "Escape from Tomorrow"
By all accounts it is a film that shouldn't even exist. Filmed on location at Walt Disney World without permission from the Disney company, Escape From Tomorrow is an outright act of defiance, a shot-on-the-fly, guerrilla style assault on one of America's most iconic sacred cows. After making a splash at this year's Sundance Film Festival, there were many who wondered if it would even be released at all.
There is a lot to be said for its sheer chutzpa, unfortunately big balls alone do not a great film make. Once you get past the initial shock of seeing such an edgy film shot in Disney World, complete with demonic automatons in "It's a Small World," Disney Princess hookers, and naked evil queens seducing horny dads, there just really isn't much there.
The film centers around a typical American family on vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida. Everything seems normal - a mom, a dad, two cherubic children - the absolute picture of the American dream. But the dad, Jim (Roy Abramsohn), has just found out that he has lost his job, and chooses not to tell his wife so as not to ruin their vacation. The news weighs hard on him, however, and he finds it hard to concentrate as a dark pall has suddenly been cast over the idyllic vacation. That's when he spots two young French Lolita's on the monorail headed to the Magic Kingdom, and finds himself becoming increasingly lost in a fantasy world of his own devising.
As rifts begin to form in his perfect family unit, Jim obsessively follows the girls around the park, and suddenly the Happiest Place on Earth takes on a much darker form. Happy go lucky children's rides no longer seem like safe havens of childhood dreams, but sinister representations of corporate evil. As Jim gets closer and closer to the truth behind these eerie visions, he finds himself disappearing down a rabbit hole of madness from which there might be no escape.
Moore is clearly going for a sort of David Lynch brand of surrealism as he builds his Disney-fied nightmare, but the film feels more like a random nonsensical mess bordering on Dada than anything resembling surrealism. The fact that not all of the scenes were actually filmed at Disney World, but in front of a very obvious green screen only hampers the film's strange verisimilitude. There is so much potential here for an actual critique of consumerist culture, and Disney is a huge target, but Moore seems to have wasted a golden opportunity on something that feels like a cheap student film.
The idea is certainly there, but it never goes that extra step to transcend the shock factor for which it so clearly strives. There some striking images to be found here, and Abel Korzeniowski's lush score is one of the year's best, but the film itself is something of a slow motion train wreck. Escape From Tomorrow is a film full of promise that never delivers. A messy, unfocused conglomeration of concepts that is hampered not only by the limitations under which it was shot, but by its fatal lack of cohesion. It's a surreal world when you really think about it, where people dress up like movie characters and dreams seemingly come to life in what is essentially an elaborate lie. But what does that say about us and our culture? I don't know, and I'm not sure Escape from Tomorrow does either. It never asks those questions, content instead to shock the audience by raising its proverbial middle finger at a legendary brand that prides itself at being squeaky clean. And rather than winning some decisive philosophical victory, the film comes off looking like a child saying a curse word in church just to see people gasp rather than a serious work of art with something relevant to say.
GRADE - ★ (out of four)
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW | Directed by Randy Moore | Stars Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady | Not rated | Opens tomorrow, 10/11, in select cities and on VOD.