While I can’t relate to Disney bashing, I am unique in the sense that I find amusement parks deeply unsettling (Disneyland®, Disneyworld®, Disney’s California Adventure® — all on my list of places to avoid, among other amusement parks). I’m the type of individual who hates being forced into anything, let alone “forced” into having fun by corporations that just want to steal my money while not guaranteeing my safety. And with that said, Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow draws every bit of my sympathy toward its exposé cause. The film uses satire and the visual nature of film to create an experience antithetical to the happy-go-lucky, innocent fun families are meant to have at Disneyworld and other realms of Disney “purity.” How can anyone truly be angry by Moore’s deconstruction of Disneyworld® when the theme park itself is a false, skewed version of reality to begin with? Moore’s intentions to subvert and attack mainstream obsession are well-executed in this horror/spoof film of sorts, but Escape From Tomorrow has no clue what to do with itself when it comes to storytelling. Trying to make sense of its narrative — if there even is one — is a task not even Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick could’ve accomplished (both of these directors are paid homage in the film). Ultimately, Escape From Tomorrow’s jumbled, mismanaged and downright confounding script holds it back from being the classic horror film it could easily have been.
The chaos in Escape From Tomorrow begins and ends at the Disneyworld® park in Orlando, Florida, a family oriented sanctuary from the harsh and cruel world known as “real-life.” Having just lost his job, Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) is in dire need of a big hug from Mickey and Friends, so naturally he takes his wife and two small children to the aforementioned world-renowned park. But what The White family doesn’t realize is that their vacation spot is really just the pretty side of hell. Jim begins to see disturbing images after several hours at the park — sweet smiles on glass dolls and other animated objects that foreground each ride disappear, substituted instead by evil glares with malignant intent. These malformed expressions also appear on the faces of humans attending the park, including his wife, daughter, son, and two teenage French girls Jim creepily lusts after.
Nothing is at it seems in Disneyworld®, or perhaps all is as it truly appears once Jim’s often inebriated state of being takes firm hold of him. Violence, sex, and other sinful temptations are found around every seemingly innocent corner. Jim’s journey is comparable to Alice’s in Alice in Wonderland: the further down the rabbit hole he travels, the more bat-sh** crazy things become. The most enjoyable moments in Escape From Tomorrow come when Jim encounters an unnamed, sex-crazed mom (Alison Lees-Taylor) who loves playing dress-up and having hot, torrid affairs with married men she meets at the park. Is this mom a witch, a nymphomaniac, or just a lunatic obsessed with role-playing every Disney princess in the Disney filmography? We’re led to believe all three are true, which makes the enigmatic, over-the-top performance of Alison Lees-Taylor all the more captivating. It’s a shame that this side-plot in Escape From Tomorrow is the only compelling piece of the disjunctive, head-scratching narrative Moore came up with.
The film’s conspiracy angle is where it lost me entirely. Without going into heavy detail, just pretend Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives and the last half of A Clockwork Orange are all blended into one. Now that you have your movie smoothie, also imagine what it would taste like without any kind of narrative context. Pretty gross despite the ingredients used, right? That’s exactly how I felt watching Escape From Tomorrow. There is nothing to latch onto in the film, story-wise — it’s just a montage of strange events in which “freak show” is the only theme connecting the dots. Had Moore produced a more cohesive, air-tight script, the film could hold together on its own as a piece of compelling cinema. But instead Escape From Tomorrow only functions as a visual experience meant to lecture and condemn. Mockumentary (or docudrama) might’ve been the preferable film genre for Randy Moore if all he wanted to do was unleash his childhood frustrations while simultaneously bringing down the “Evil Empire” that is Disney.
Even though I find Moore’s film problematic from a storytelling standpoint, I bow down to his visual sensibilities. Shooting the modern day Escape From Tomorrow in black and white was a genius move. It coats audiences with nostalgia while also reminding them that the family conservatism of the 1950s (faux “white-picket fence” state of happiness) is still very much ingrained into the Disney brand, as well as its theme parks and other entertainment venues. This aesthetic choice also sharpens our ability to differentiate between what is “real” and what is “conspiratorial.” Plus, you can never go wrong filming a horror film in black and white if shadows and dark suggestions are your thing (hello, Hitchcock in Psycho!). Composer Abel Korzeniowski, editor Soojin Chung, and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham all work at the top of their field in this film. They assist Moore in constructing a world that feels lived-in yet weird, creepy, and highly disturbing. Visually-speaking, Escape From Tomorrow is one of the highlights of 2013.
More stylistic than substantive, more shocking than revolutionary, Mankurt Media and Production Distribution Agency’s Escape From Tomorrow is nevertheless a film to be seen and discussed. The film opens today, October 11th, in select cities nationwide as well as on select VOD platforms. Los Angeles moviegoers can find the film playing at the Sundance Cinemas, Downtown Independent, and Pasadena Playhouse theaters. Check out the trailer below…