Retro Review: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW (2013){0}

A film like Randy Moore’s certifiably bizarre Escape from Tomorrow comes bearing a rather unique history. Suffice to say that Mr. Moore and a few colleagues decided that instead of shooting their black & white character study / psychological thriller / film noir homage on the streets or in a studio — they’d shoot Escape from Tomorrow on the down-low, all throughout Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney World in Florida.   But wait. You can’t just shoot an indie film in Disney parks without their permission! (Which they’d never give!) Especially not an arcane, downbeat, and almost trenchantly satirical indie film that presents the company’s beloved characters in an insidious light! That’s just crazy. Yet that’s precisely what Moore spent three years on.

Whether Escape from Tomorrow feels like a patchwork quilt of weirdness that was stitched together from lots of sincerely random footage or some sort of low-budget Lynchian masterpiece that makes harrowing points about conformity, consumerism, and moral corrosion is, of course, up to the individual viewer. This viewer would call the film a firm mixture of both: a venomous but sometimes unfocused mockery of all things Disney; a creepy but slightly aimless character study of a man suffering through one hell of a mid-life crisis on the final day of his family vacation; and a Twilight Zone-style piece of surreal creepiness that really works in isolated moments but doesn’t exactly congeal into a cohesive whole.  

The film details the final vacation day for Jim (Roy Abramsohn), his irritating wife, his strangely unpleasant little boy, and his odd little girl. As a unit and then in separate groups the family wanders through an unnamed yet magical theme park — as Jim (ever so slowly) starts to lose his mind. First he’s a little too focused on a pair of very young and pretty French girls; then he’s trying to find a way to tell his wife he just lost his job. Also Jim’s kids don’t seem very lovable, the park is full of various “adult” threats; and there’s even a secret laboratory that … dabbles in mind control and something called “cat flu,” I think. Look, I said the flick was “Lynchian” a few paragraphs ago, and that means avant-garde, artsy-fartsy, deeply introspective, and entirely up to your own interpretation.

What some see as an experimental piece of weirdness others will see as a work of mad genius.   Like most viewers, I was mostly interested in seeing what a “guerrilla-style Disney Park” production would look like, but Escape from Tomorrow kept my interest with its lovely black and white cinematography, its amusingly familiar musical score, and a handful of moments that are legitimately clever, insightful, amusing, or creepy. As a “complete film,” Escape from Tomorrow is sort of a mess, but as a conversation piece for hardcore film buffs and Disney fans, it’s a fascinating little curiosity indeed.