“Escape from Tomorrow” is a curious work resulted from one small, interesting attempt, and this little independent film was made under the limited conditions which could have made its production quite impossible from the start. The people behind it had a good idea for their movie, so they went for that by any means necessary while managing to hide their project from one of the most powerful corporations in the American entertainment business, and they have also managed to show their final result to the small but significant number of audiences since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in last year.
The movie is about one freaky day at Disney World, Florida. After its ambiguous opening sequence which ends with a disturbing final note, we are introduced to Jim(Ray Abramsohn), an average family man who has just begun the last day of his family vacation with an unpleasant news for him. His boss notifies during their early phone call that he is fired, and Jim is visibly upset about that, but he decides not to tell this to his family because he does not want to ruin their happy vacation – at least for a while.
Everything looks fine when he and his family leave their resort room and then go to Disney world for another day of fun, but, not long after they pass the main entrance, Jim begins to experience weird things. When he goes through “It’s a Small World” ride with his family, those small cheerful doll figures welcoming them and other visitors are momentarily changed into something sinister in front of his eyes, and that certainly freaks him out. He also experiences a brief spooky moment as searching for his daughter in a dark, confusing place, and then he hears about some epidemic being spread around visitors when he takes his daughter to a nurse later.
And he comes across certain people again and again. There are two young French girls whom he encounters on the monorail to Disney World, and he finds himself drawn to them, although he does not seem to know why he is attracted to them or what exactly he wants from these chirpy girls. A fat guy on scooter and his family appear from time to time with no apparent reason, and then there is a strange woman who virtually gives off her unstable sensuality when she happens to talk with Jim on a bench. When they meet again later, the movie gives us a morbidly funny scene with deranged humor, which is surely not a pleasant moment for some guys at the Walt Disney Company.
That is just one of many weird moments in the film, and it is not so surprising that the director/writer Randy Moore did not consider getting the permission to shoot his film from the Walt Disney Company from the beginning. With some caution and meticulous shooting plan, he and his actors and crew members went inside Disney World and Disneyland several times, and, according to the director, they did not draw much attention while they were secretly working at these locations. They kept the script in iPhones which were used as not only walkie-talkie but also sound recorders, and their Canon digital cameras were not noticed among many digital cameras brought by other visitors. They had to shoot the film in monochrome mode due to the technical limit during shooting, but that becomes a blessing in disguise; its black-and-white film tone imbues the movie with a certain surreal quality, and that further enhances the warped reality of its disturbed hero, who increasingly looks like being under some elusive, sinister influence.
The movie goes wilder than before during its third act, but that is where the movie begins to spin its wheels. As the sun is going down during the evening, more weird things happen, and the movie even goes into the realm of paranoia and conspiracy, especially when Jim suddenly finds himself trapped inside one of the giant architectures in Disney World. Regardless of whether this is just his paranoid delusion or not, this scene itself is amusing to watch for its outrageousness, but it does not add much to the movie, and neither does its finale, which feels rather fizzled compared to the potential glimpsed at the beginning.
Furthermore, you may notice a number of technical flaws here and there throughout the movie. Although it is not distracting enough to disrupt its narrative flow, it is apparent that actors are inserted into background shots during several scenes, and it is also pretty easy to distinguish the shots made at the locations from the ones made at the studio later. I kept wondering about how Moore and his crew shot some of their difficult scenes, but, as observing camera angles and editing, I also sensed the limits they must have faced during their covert production.
Nevertheless, the movie is an interesting experiment despite its many shortcomings, and I enjoyed its offbeat mood even while recognizing its thin premise. I also liked how Bernard Herrmann’s classic score for “Fahrenheit 451”(1966) was used during one scene in the film, and the composer Abel Korzeniowski, who incidentally quoted Herrmann’s score for “Vertigo”(1958) in his elegiac music for “A Single Man”(2009), provides a nice score reminiscent of classic Hollywood film scores, which sometimes functions as an ironic counterpart to the scenes far from being romantic or peaceful.
After being shown at the Sundance Film Festival and others film festivals including 2013 Ebertfest(it was one of the films selected by my late friend Roger Ebert not long before his death), “Escape From Tomorrow” was shown a little more widely to audiences late in 2013, and the Walt Disney Company, which has been known to be very sensitive about its intellectual properties, has so far taken no direct legal action against the film and its makers. That was probably a wise choice for them, considering that suppressing a movie usually draws more attention and curiosity, as we have seen from many cases.
I do not think it is very good on the whole, but this little film is a nice example which shows us that, if there is a will, there is a way and then there will be a movie. It is something different to be watched if you seek for such movies, and Disney World or Disneyland may look a little creepier to you than before after you watch it.
By the way, after I watched the movie, my mind came back to that hilarious piece written by my Internet acquaintance Michał Oleszczyk, which amusingly tells about how he and his fellow critic Odie Henderson had a horrible experience during their Toy Story ride at Disney World. While reading it, I had a pretty vivid idea about how awful that experience was for them; after writing this review, now I understand their unspeakable ordeal more than ever.