“Escape from Tomorrow” is definitely not your run-of-the-mill neo-noir sci-fi fantasy comedy horror thriller. What one can say is that this micro-budget gem is definitely one of the most original and audacious films released this year.
See more of Rick's reviews at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
First-time director/writer Randy Moore’s surreal satire of a man psychologically disintegrating – shot on location in “The Happiest Place on Earth,” no less – makes for eye-popping, transgressive cinema, and all the better for not being gratuitously confrontational.
“Escape from Tomorrow” opens with Jim (Roy Abramsohn) on his cell phone being told the company he works for is going through a “transitional period.” He is no longer be needed.
Jim and his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber) and two children have just arrived at a composite version of Disneyland – the film was shot at both the California and Florida locations. More about the stealth filming techniques required to make “Escape from Tomorrow” below.
While Jim is clearly shattered by the news, he doesn’t want to say anything about it to the family. Riding the Monorail on the way to the park, he notices two young (as in clearly underage) French girls.
Jim’s mind begins to fray at the edges. Is he going crazy? Did Emily really tell him she hates him? Did his five-year old son’s eyes suddenly turn into alien orbs from outer space? Meanwhile the girls keep appearing. Jim starts following them around, from the Teacup ride to the Merry-go-round. He sees them on the Autopia miniature car attraction and imagines he’s sitting next to them.
Using sound and lighting, Moore teases out the creepiness unconsciously embedded in mechanical rides like “Snow White” and “It’s a Small World.” Innocuous characters momentarily flash into threatening Gargoyles.
Initially, the choice to shoot in black-and-white was determined by having to match different background-light profiles in different seasons. The final product shows color would not have been the best choice even if matching logistics were not an issue.
Sexual fantasies flood Jim's mind at every turn. Sex is not usually the first thing that comes to mind upon entering the Magic Kingdom. And maybe that’s the point – total immersion in Disneyland catalyzes the rewiring of the id and pleasure principle.
Jim becomes obsessed with the girls, taking his little boy in tow to Space Mountain, even though the lad isn’t ready for the ride. That he’s lost track of his wife and daughter doesn’t matter, either.
Mixed in with the mostly actual footage secretly filmed onsite are several well done but noticeable green-screen shots that accentuate the unreality of the situation.
The ‘50s-style special effects are reflected in the music. Composer Abel Korzeniowski’s score, ranging from sweeping orchestrations to perky lounge and exotica, sounds like it was written for a romantic adventure blockbuster 60 years ago.
It seems like every time Emily's hubby turns up missing, she finds him checking out the French girls or perusing “Just Enough French: How to Get by and be Easily Understood” at the gift store. The schism between Jim and Emily’s relationship surfaces when she becomes seriously upset that Jim bought her a Dumbo trinket instead of her longed for Minnie Mouse doodad.
Placing the action in “The World’s Happiest” place intensifies everything – the job loss, Emily catching her husband showing inappropriate attention to children – it’s like turning up the contrast control to 11. The same story unfolding in a more conventional environment would not have had the same impact.
Now we’re off to the Epcot theme park. Emily is getting increasingly annoyed at Jim’s odd behavior as he downs a couple of 24-ounce steins of beer. By the time we get to the fireworks sequence it feels like more like the Do Long bridge scene from “Apocalypse Now” (1979) than a night at Disneyland.
In a Disney Hotel room, Alison Lees-Taylor delivers a vamped-up, over-the-edge performance as "the other woman." Is she a wacked-out employee? Prostitute? Social critic? “You can’t be happy all the time; It’s just not possible, and you know, smiling’s not good for the wrinkles – and I hate happy endings.”
Disneyland is set in eternity, where Mickey and Donald and Pluto live forever. Death is processed like a vacated motel room – wiped down and sprayed away with antiseptic while no one’s looking.
Serious guerrilla filmmaking
Film editor Soojin Chung's work shines, but isn’t obvious without knowing some “Escape from Tomorrow” backstory.
Deploying a conventional location sound mixer would have required lugging equipment around that screamed, “Look at us! We’re making a movie!” It’s a safe bet Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, LLC would never have signed off on allowing the crew to make this movie on their property. Filming had to be done surreptitiously.
So instead of conventional sound gear, Moore deployed small Olympus pocket recorders. The sound quality is surprisingly good, but they don’t record time-code, so Chung was assigned the arduous task of sorting it all out.
Moore describes the workaround: “I couldn’t trust certain actors to always turn their recorders on and off every time we were about to role camera. So in the end, I just decided to let them run all day…Every shot had anywhere from five to seven different individual tracks of audio, with each track being eight to16 hours in length, non-stop with no sync points and no time code, everyday, for about 30 shooting days. It was a monster task, which took over a month to complete.”
Now that’s what guerilla filmmaking is all about.
I gave “Escape from Tomorrow” Four Stars overall, but for spunk and ingenuity, it deserves Five Stars.
See playdates and locations for “Escape from Tomorrow” HERE.
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