Sunday, March 30, 2014

Escape From Tomorrow - The Very Best Vacations Involve a Complete Descent into Madness

Escape From Tomorrow is a tough film to sell. This is in no small part thanks to the fact that what the movie is most known for isn't the story, but rather its production. The decision of director Randy Moore to film the entire movie guerrilla-style on the premises of Disneyland and Disney World is an ambitious gamble, and certainly one of the more interesting aspects of the overall product, but it's also one that risks overshadowing the movie's other merits.

The entire guerrilla approach-which Disney shrewdly decided to let slide rather than pursue legal action and therefore invite the attention of the press- is something of a necessity given the nature of its story. The idea of exploring a darker side of the so-called 'happiest place on Earth' is something that's been joked about so often it's actually kind of surprising to think no one had tried to make this movie sooner. Of course, the filming in the park does actually help aid the movie in a way that just making a mock-up of Disney with the arbitrary legal substitution wouldn't quite cut, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Welp...they bought up Marvel and Star Wars, it was only a matter of time before Disney would set their sights on The X-Files.

This surreal horror experiment concerns protagonist Jim White (Roy Abramsohn,) a father whose taken his family on a vacation to Disney World. During the vacation, he receives a phone call from work, informing him of his subsequent termination: a decision he keeps from his family. The trip into the park starts innocently and then a bit creepy when Jim's eye catches two young French girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru.) Then things start to change on arrival at the park. In classic 'horrors of Disney' style, Jim begins to hallucinate wildly on - what else? - It's a Small World. What follows is a nightmarish descent into a dark parallel of the park: prostitution, an outbreak, sinister visions, and a secret conspiracy operating behind the scenes are all parts of the myriad ways in which Jim's vacation goes to complete and utter Hell.

The park ads tend to leave out the part about nightmare face transformations...I guess they just figure it's part and parcel and doesn't need to be brought up.

Like I said before, the decision to film at the actual Disney parks themselves, while a hook that kind of overshadows the movie, is also useful as more than just a gimmick. By using an actual theme park, and having locations that many people can place as point of reference to their own trips to Disney, it makes the nightmarish diversions a bit more effective, as it puts the disturbing elements into enough of a -for lack of a better term- shared reality that everyone can recognize, and thus be disturbed by. Of course, they naturally couldn't get away with EVERYTHING in these parks, which does lead to some occasional moments where the film has to resort to some jarring greenscreening. It's an effect you learn to take in stride given the nature of the production, but can still be distracting at certain points.

Of course, the unsettling vibe doesn't entirely hinge upon the location, though that does enhance it. Randy Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham have produced a film that, in its overall feel, has a very dark and unnerving look to it. The black and white style, combined with some of the nature of the hallucinations (such as in the above-mentioned It's a Small World sequence) give everything a sort of feel of a waking nightmare. It's the kind of effect similar to what David Lynch did with Eraserhead, albeit here with a bit more polish by virtue of the technology available. Granted, I do think that reduces some of the more disturbing nature of EFT by comparison, but that's more a consequence of the style of filmmaking.

The biggest stumbling block this movie could be said to suffer from is with regards to its story. The overall concept is certainly one with potential, but the actual execution is VERY hit and miss. While the film's hallucinatory nature does a great job for the film visually, it also causes the film's writing to feel disjointed at times. Individual concepts it introduces into the film are all pretty memorable, but they never really feel like they ever come together into much, even during what's supposed to be the big surprise reveal inside Epcot center. While it provides an interesting twist to the movie, it's a twist that never really goes much of anywhere. This could, admittedly, be because the entire film has been read by a lot of people (and to be honest, I can agree with this) as being all a product of Jim slowly losing his mind. As such, I could somewhat see the logic in the idea that none of these visions really add up. They're all products of that madness, and thus born not out of any sort of cohesive logic but rather a paranoid series of delusions. Of course, the film plays that potential completely straight-faced, pulling a move akin to Videodrome in that we're never really privy to what's real and what's imagined. Unfortunately, unlike Videodrome, the hallucinations seem somewhat scattered in their nature. We have some recurring elements, such as Jim's taboo attraction to the teen French girls, as well as the idea of the park hosting a prostitution ring (oh, to have been in the Disney offices when they heard about THAT part.) The overall film, however, is still rather scattershot in its concepts and execution.

At first I had reservations about including this...but honestly, given how odd this turn is, I'd have to REALLY work to turn it into a spoiler.

The cast, for being relative unknowns, all play their parts fairly well. Abramsohn in particular carries the film well as its potentially unreliable narrator. While we do feel bad for him at points, he also doesn't mind letting us judge some of his actions - especially since, to be perfectly honest, there are many points in this film where Jim IS an absolute ass. The rest of the cast are largely capable, but to be perfectly honest, it's Abramsohn that carries this. It's his experiences, and his possible madness that make up this movie, and as such, everyone else is just elements working around him. They do well for their parts, but are never given the chance to really go above and beyond by comparison.

Overall, this is the kind of movie that feels like it works more as a proof of concept than it does as a standalone movie. It's certainly not a perfect movie by any means, but it has enough strengths to make up for it. Even once you get past the 'gimmick' factor of its production history, the fact is, you're left with a film that shows director Moore has a lot of potential in terms of where he can go from here as a filmmaker. His 'through a glass darkly' vision of the beloved Disney parks is a memorable enough part of the film that, even if its somewhat disjointed narrative doesn't always click, you're likely to at least remember some of its visual style.

It's the kind of movie that I can't promise you'll enjoy, but if you're curious enough, it's at least worth giving a watch to see what you think of it.

...well, this was an odd one to come back to the reviews on ( that's ever stopped me before.)

I'll have something a bit more recent up in the next day or so.

Till then!

In the meantime, we here at The Third Row wish to remind you to properly dispose of all garbage in the appropriately marked receptacles.
Thank you.

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