Movie Review: Escape From Tomorrow

If one is to appreciate this bizarre little movie and why I decided to review it, one has to know how Escape From Tomorrow was made in the first place…and how it really should not have been released at all.  The film was made guerilla style, filmed entirely in secret at Disneyland and the Walt Disney World Resort without the knowledge of the House of Mouse (or park security). Inexpensive cameras and smart phones had to be used so they would not draw attention from the masses, the script was kept on phones, and the crew had to plan far in advance for when and where to shoot certain scenes so the sun would be in just the right position (lighting equipment could not be used).  After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, many figured that Disney would take legal action to prevent a wider release, but to do some careful legal maneuvering (the only mention of the word “Disney” is literally bleeped out). For example, it was decided that Moore’s film did not commit copyright infringement and was allowed a wider (yet extremely limited) U.S. release. If Escape From Tomorrow had not been allowed to be released, we may not have gotten to experience such a delightfully haunting and original look at the Happiest Place on Earth.

On their last day at an unspecified Disney park (certain landmarks indicate Disney World), Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) gets a phone call telling him he has been laid off from work. Combined with that is his lust for other women (Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor) he encounters at the park and a family (Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton) he has grown tired of. As his real internal turmoil clashes with the manufactured happiness around him, Jim starts down a road into madness as he tries to make up for his sins to his family and defeat his inner desires.

It must be said that I am a big Disney aficionado. I have always admired what Uncle Walt managed to achieve in his career and how he revolutionized American culture as we know it. I’ve never invested in the belief of Disney himself being a racist or a money-craving businessman (he was actually the exact opposite) and in a world where cynics reign supreme, I have always valued Disney’s appeal to the simple and carefree.  With that being said, Escape can be read as an anti-Disney production that accuses the conglomerate of breaking down the modern man by enforcing dated and childish ideals with shallow worldviews in order to lull loyal consumers into mediocrity (and will go beyond the boundaries of morality to achieve this). But I like to see it as a deconstruction of the crumbling American family, surrounded by the relics of a bygone era when the “family unit” had meaning. I see this movie as a celebration of what Disney meant to so many long ago, but how little its messages are heeded today and how such a lack of morality can destroy an adulterer or an abuser.

It should be said to those who have never even seen a trailer for “Escape” should know that it was all filmed in black and white, which goes a long way for setting the right tone and preventing the movie from feeling like a 90-minute commercial for the Disney parks. The scenery is already busy enough in real life, as is every building and shop. Those element are trying to grab peoples’ attention with flashy colors, so Moore made the right decision to eliminate those colors altogether.  The cinematography does suffer a bit due to its reliance on natural lighting and awkward shooting conditions. Scenes occasionally look over-exposed or too dark or unbalanced.  Sometimes, sequences have legitimate “cinematic” looks usually found when set in hotels or heavy special effects sequence, but then look like amateurishly quick homemade videos when in restaurants and rides. Given the circumstances, the flaws are forgivable, but that does not mean the visuals do not work at times.

Not much can be said about the effects, as there are very few, but what is there is hardly ever realistic. “Escape From Tomorrow” had next to no budget, so Moore may have done better in reallocating the budget from some of the bigger and demanding effects sequences to making more subtle moments. They do a good job setting up unnerving moods and haunting visuals, but when it comes to some of the higher concept moments later in the film, I believe Moore may have been a little too ambitious with what he had, as the effects tend to falter a bit.

Despite some gripes, I’d say “Escape From Tomorrow” is a must-see film. I always advocate supporting ambitious filmmaking and this is the finest example I have seen in years. The acting does a believable job from what is asked of them (though admittedly little), the visuals are effectively disturbing at times and downright frightening at others. Viewers will be able to interpret this uncanny psychological thriller in their own way, certainly a mark of great cinema.

Unfortunately, the film received an extremely limited release, so naturally it is not being shown around Texas Tech at this time. It is, however, available on iTunes in HD for $13 purchase ($7 rent) right now and I would advocate anyone to support such unique artistry by purchasing or renting this.

I give “Escape From Tomorrow” 4.5 stars out of 5.

 

About Brady Gorman
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