Thursday, June 5, 2014

What...Did I Just Watch: Review of Randy Moore's Escape from Tomorrow (2013)


WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. It’s hard not to talk about what I think happened.

Last January (2013), Escape from Tomorrow was one of the films featured at the Sundance Film Festival. I remember hearing about this film last year, but I didn’t fully understand why it was getting all kinds of buzz (aside from the fact that it was FILMED in Disney World/Land WITHOUT their permission). For those who have not seen the film, or heard of it, here is a short synopsis (taken from Comingsoon.net) and the trailer.

            An epic battle begins when a middle-aged husband and father of two learns that he has lost his job. Keeping the news from his nagging wife and wound-up children, he packs up the family and embarks on a full day of enchanted castles and fairytale princesses. Soon, the manufactured mirth of the fantasy land around him unravels into a surrealist nightmare of paranoid visions, bizarre encounters, and an obsessive pursuit of a pair of sexy teenage girls. Chillingly shot in black & white, "Escape From Tomorrow" dissects the mythology of artificial perfection while subversively attacking our culture's obsession with mass entertainment.

I want to note that I personally would have reworded this summary, and would have ended it with a suggestion for viewers: Watch twice, because if you think you know what’s happening, you’re lying to yourself. I would also add that the ending of the summary is perfect in PART, yes, “Chillingly shot in black & white,” but “dissect[ing] the mythology of artificial perfection while subversively attacking our culture's obsession with mass entertainment,” is far from what this film achieves. But hell, it really is worth watching, especially to see how expertly they shot the film without getting caught!

The Review:

 It’s extremely difficult to put into words what this psychological-horror is pursuing. While watching the film for the first time, I experienced a traumatic flash-back to my second year of post- secondary, where I had to watch David Lynch’s Lost Highway and “explain” what happened with literary theory.  Like Lynch’s film, Escape from Tomorrow forces the viewer to identify or understand the subtext on top of stacking the plot with other mini-plots and twists (creating genre confusion). I think I know what was going on in terms of the main idea of the film (a man coming to terms with his life and the irony of being in the happiest place on earth while “dark events” occur), but the inclusion of the enticing Parisian teenage girls, the menacing demon faces seen by the main character in easy-targeted “evil rides” as “It’s a Small World” and “Snow White,” it’s hard to discern if the film is commenting on the Disney company or being weird for the sake of being weird (or topical). In the initial scene when we learn that the main character Jim loses his job, we connect with him because he becomes relatable; however, when he begins to stalk the young girls that appear throughout the film, all sympathy is replaced by awkwardness, second-hand embarrassment, and being creeped-out. Not only does he stare at them, but he actively adjusts his plans for the day to be around them—tugging his son along for the adventure. Viewers may get lost in this side-plot and find the film heading into the “What am I watching” phase of the film, but then will be redirected to another genre or mini-plot involving a seductive “single-mom” who likes to play dress up (I will let viewers experience this part all on their own because it enters levels of extreme-weirdness), and then, adding a bit of sci-fi for the hell of it with a conspiracy theory about the Epcot Spaceship Earth ride—the big white ball (or known as the testicle, according to Jim). It’s fun to see all the rides that I was familiar with because I’ve been to Disney a few times, but in terms of the film and Disney’s involvement in the plot, the film could have easily been based in any kind of theme park. The focus on Disney itself fades as the film progresses. I think if the film focused on one aspect (or genre) such as the demon faces, the suspicious teenage girls, the GRAPHIC cat flu, or the robots and the company Siemens, the film would have been much more enjoyable and cohesive (each element would have worked well on its own).


Now that I’ve mentioned a few of the misconnections with the film, there are at least 2 strong aspects of this film that make it work (or watchable)—the lead actor Roy Abramsohn (Jim) and the cinematography (how brilliantly the film was shot). As mentioned, viewers will probably lose all hope they had for Jim becoming some form of an anti-hero in the film, but what keeps the story moving is how convincing Abramsohn is as a jackass middle-aged dad on vacation in a depressing situation. Granted some of the script is cheesey (juvenile sexual jokes), but Abramsohn’s delivery is solid throughout the film (especially in the scenes where you are most likely to roll your eyes or cringe). It would be safe to say that he carries most of the film. Along with the lead role’s strong performance, the film relied on how scenes were shot to create the surreal mood for the film. Shot by the director Randy Moore and a few extra skeleton crew (with hand-held digital cameras) guerrilla-style, the director only relied on natural lighting and tourists to create the shots. Considering films are shot with cameras about the size of a medium dog, the plan was pretty ingenious because who would suspect a tourist with a camera following around a happy family? In a recent interview, Moore mentioned one moment where park security suspected that the family were a famous couple (they were pulled aside and questioned), but the cast escaped out of pure luck (watch here for a brief interview -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrYuE4ypTE8) . You can appreciate the film for its venture into psycho-horror-fantasy, or for its simplistic shots that propel the film. Either way, the film is worth seeing (regardless of the confusion and weird moments).
 

Most importantly, Disney has YET to sue the filmmaker for shooting in the parks and using the company’s iconography without permission. On the movie’s website, they have a countdown as to how long it has been without Disney notifying them of any legal action. I’d say that it’s impressive, but Disney is known for maintaining their “clean” image, and will most likely not take action.

Though I spent most of the review critiquing the film, I would highly recommend finding it to watch. Though it’s not for the traditional Disney or horror fan, it is rewarding for both as it pays homage to classic elements of mystery-horror films.
http://escapefromtomorrow.com/

For more on the film, here is a behind-the-scenes featurette (to convince you to watch it)

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