In the beginning, I could picture a group of friends talking and laughing over beers, and in a Kevin Smith kinda way, destroying the whole current culture and how the masses seem like zombies that follow routine and annual rituals in a never-ending spiral. At a certain moment, someone says “Hey, what about Disney?”, “What about it, Dude?” says his pal. “Don’t you think this conglomerate has made millions out of our stupid fantasy of getting a prefabricated happiness in exchange for the price of an admission ticket?” and there, they go over and over and over, until someone says: “wait a minute…. what if we make a movie about this?”, then the realistic would add: “forget it man. Can’t be done. Too expensive…Plus, Disney won’t give us permission”. And the director would arch his eyebrow the same way Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez did when they devised The Blair Witch Project or when Oren Peli imagined a new horror film with Paranormal Activity with no new material but simply the power of the medium.
Of course, later on, I read what brought Randy Moore to this story: his memories of going to the parks with his father and how this place of facades becomes a surreal experience with repeated visits.
That’s how this becomes a one-of-a-kind film. Moore planned several visits to the Disney Parks in California and Orlando, bringing with him some actors to play common family Jim, Emily, Sara and Elliot, along with his camera and an assistant. They spent whole days in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot doing what any other tourists do: Take pictures and record videos with their little canon camera of the family enjoying the site. Except, that Mr. Moore has a storyline in his mind, and the family is acting out a script, going over and over again through all the rides.
With all the images in the can, and some extra scenes staged in a hotel, an infirmary and a minimalistic laboratory, the film was ready. It only needed some good special effects provided by the same people who made the 2006 Korean monster film ‘The Host’ a success, and it was ready for the experiment with living guinea pigs: the audience.
I have to admit, this exercise in social criticism got into me. I found myself watching the whole film with a smirk of malicious joy in my face.
First of all, Randy Moore decides to record everything in Black and White for technical reasons, and his decision helped tear down the violent color attack these parks infuse on us. It also gives the film its macabre feeling and an added documentary feel. Some critics say it’s rather Lynchian, although I don’t think Moor was aiming at that.
For a film like these, actors must not be recognizable, so the “cinema-verite” style goes well with the guerrilla filmmaking, storyline and its impact in the viewer. Most of the sequences, although very well focused and framed, are casual and seem unrehearsed. Sometimes the camera turns around looking for the story developing in the background and then goes back to the characters.
Moore uses the simple device of having Jim be fired right at the beginning of the movie, when he’s taking his family to Disney. Perfect timing! What comes after is what we can easily see in any of these places, enhanced by the main character’s added tension.
The film then goes into detailing all the things that can go wrong in a place designed to make people happy and to hide anything that is ugly. Smiles and words of comfort are produced and bottled like a clown make up onto the parks’ employees, and at a certain moment you see the unthinkable: a child being slapped in the face and later on, given alcohol, a former princess becomes an evil villain, tourists turn into rude beasts and food is not what it seems. I would call all this the invasion of real life into a utopian temporary world.
It’s not difficult to understand where all this is going to. Like ‘Titanic’, the film has a clear purpose and it never deviates from its course. What’s more rewarding is actually seeing it happening in the place where synthetic dreams are made. It is the sense of catching the other side of the coin, something you can easily do by running into some of their workers (outside the parks, of course) and listening to their accounts on how bitter is the aftertaste of sweetness.
But Moore’s indie endeavor does not target Disney specifically, even if the cute dolls at “It’s a Small World” ride end up becoming ominous replicas of Chucky and princesses become available whores for foreign investors, even if the House of the Mouse has always been an easy target for artists who attack its iconography with different degrees of success. It is more an attack on the consumer and its redundant and cyclical nonsensical need for mindless entertainment even if it targets its core. In his stressed day, Jim is haunted by visions of two young and sexy girls, and when asked if he thinks his wife is beautiful, he can only say, “Yes, in an Emily Dickinson way”. Having sex with a mysterious woman while his daughter waits outside the door is completely unacceptable, specially when the wife’s having lunch with her daughter in an empty “family friendly” restaurant.
In the end, ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ will be remembered for how it was made, more than what it tries to say. A marvel of indie production, pushing the limits of what’s permissible and handling impossibilities as assets, the film carefully creates a very focused and flowing image of a day in the life of these characters and how purchased fantasy actually messes with your brain.