Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Cinema File #263: "Escape From Tomorrow" Review

Regardless of whatever else can be said about it, it must first and most emphatically be acknowledged that the people behind the new indie psychological thriller Escape From Tomorrow did something quite unique and literally never before seen, which is so rare in cinema today that to not point it out and applaud it without caveat would be hypocritical of anyone who has ever complained about the lack of ingenuity in Hollywood. Okay, now for the caveats. If you don't know what this thing is, Escape From Tomorrow is a film shot almost entirely at Disney World and Disneyland, without permission from the famously litigious company. With evil Epcot robots and a demonically possessed Small World ride. And Disney Princess whores. Trying to figure out how they got the shots they needed would be reason enough to watch the movie just as a technical curiosity, but on top of that, the film itself is a creepy little gem that despite some major but forgivable flaws, had me strangely hooked.

Escape From Tomorrow follows a family already fractured by the typical domestic struggles who find nothing but mystery and bizarre terror on their last day vacationing in the so-called Happiest Place On Earth. The story mostly concerns the father, a man going through an apparent mid-life crisis and just trying to keep it together after finding out that he's lost his job, and still has to keep a good face on for at least one more day. That day happens to be when all the weird shit happens, and once it begins, it provides the audience with a nice jumping off point. Either you accept the slow unraveling of rationality and go along for the ride (no pun intended), or you don't. It literally starts on a ride as a matter of fact, specifically the aforementioned Small World ride, where smiling doll faces contort into devilish snarls, and it only gets weirder from there.

Not weird enough though, and that's my first and probably biggest problem. Like many independent films (especially black and white ones which I assume is a coincidence), things take a while to get going, and even once the action seems to heat up, there are long stretches of time more devoted to creating a paranoid atmosphere where more story would have been much appreciated. The incidents of unreality escalate as the movie goes on, but never really tie together into anything that makes sense, settling for some obvious and in some cases downright silly symbolism and a typically noirish ambiguous ending more stylish than satisfying. Oddly, I'd say to really appreciate the movie for what it is, you must approach it with an instinct that would normally be counter intuitive, accepting the lack of cohesion and just viewing the whole thing as a collection of strange vignettes that happen to follow the same people.

Not to mention, outside of one scene set within the bowels of Epcot center and one reference to the dark secret behind Disney Princesses, the whole "shot at Disney" thing, while extremely novel and fun on a meta level, never really gels with the story to make it actually worth while. Most of it could have been shot at any theme park for all it matters to the plot, and the few scenes that are Disney-centric really don't go far enough to get the effect of subverting a family friendly mainstay, which presumably is the whole aim of the enterprise. The movie is severely lacking in dark twists on Disney iconography, and throws in a lot of random strangeness to compensate (black eyes children!), but then I wonder how much of that was preemptive protection on the part of the lawsuit wary producers, seeing as how they went so far as to bleep out the one explicit mention of the company's name.

If you need your movies to have internal logic or pay offs, than this one isn't for you, and normally I would be wholeheartedly in that camp as well, but for some reason I just can't help but fall just on the side of defending this movie even while recognizing its many problems. Maybe its just the audacity of the thing that still wows me, and so what they were able to pull off is enough. And beyond that, there's something about the tone that appealed to me, dark and morbid, but never losing its sense of humor or taking itself too seriously. Its uncomfortable, but on purpose, which I can always appreciate considering its kind of my whole thing in general. Escape From Tomorrow isn't for everybody, and in fact I would guess it probably isn't for most people, but if you're in the right mood or just narrowly goofy enough to be its target audience, there's at least enough there to justify giving it a chance.

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