“ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW” (Fantastic Fest Movie Review)
Maybe it takes a director this determined and crazy to make a film this deliciously weird.
Yes, Randy Moore surreptitiously shot ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, employing guerilla-style techniques and considerable derring-do. And that alone likely would have been enough to garner his film a fair amount of buzz and praise, if for no other reason than A) a lot of people possess a chic-yet-banal harrumphing distaste of Disney culture and B) a band of scrappy upstarts sticking it to the man never really goes out of style.
Happily, Moore doesn’t exploit the ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW origin story as a contextual crutch to hobble through an otherwise uninspired feature. Instead, he plunges us into a stylish fever dream wherein the potential darker sorceries lurking amidst the Magic Kingdom are imagined and explored. Narrative is a very amorphous beast in this palatial black and white miniverse, and that self-granted latitude allows Moore to introduce the audience to an impressive array of eerie, frequently hilarious bizarro mise-en-scène—some naturally more effective than others, but all imbued with a unique ingenuity and vision.
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW opens on a hotel balcony. Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is prepping for his last daylong family theme park vacation tour of duty when his boss calls to give him the axe. Roy keeps the news under wraps and heads to the park anyway, admirably keeping up Loveable Curmudgeon Dad appearances, but his secret creates a separation between him and wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and their two children. And into that void slips a whole lot of crazy. Soon he’s experiencing hallucinations (?) on rides—usually innocuous animatronic puppets flash sinister looks, voices taunt, reveling children’s eyes go demonic black, etc—which only become more elaborate and surreal as he (creepily) begins to obsess over/tail two pretty teenage Parisian girls around the park.
Suffice to say, audiences will probably never look at park princesses, Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, It’s a Small World, Japanese businessmen, park security, or skipping, carefree nymphs quite the same way ever again. And may the ghost of Walt save us if anything resembling the “cat flu” depicted here ever actually comes down the pike.
Is ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW trenchant cultural criticism? Eh, not really. One advert circulated at Fantastic Fest insists the film “dissects the mythology of artificial perfection while subversively attacking our culture’s obsession with mass entertainment”—precisely the wrong prism through which to view this work, whatever the intentions of its creators. The “conspicuous consumption” satire is definitely here and occasionally amusing, but also easy and, perhaps necessarily, superficial. What is truly thrilling and noteworthy about ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is the film’s ability to realistically portray the absurd and fantastic amidst the familiar.