October 14, 2013

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

"In a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, an epic battle begins when an unemployed father's sanity is challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday."

As someone who has never set foot inside a Disney theme park or watched any Disney cartoons in his life, I have no idea what the conspiracy theory fuss is about "Escape from Tomorrow". All I know is that Disney has made a couple of classic feature length cartoons to keep little kids quiet, and a few mediocre G-rated "family" movies for everyone else. I do remember a scandal about part of a castle on some VHS artwork looking like a dildo, back in the day, but I couldn't tell you the name of that movie without looking it up, or why it would even matter to anyone. Disney is nothing to me, never has been, and never will be. In fact, the only time I was ever in Orlando, Florida, I went to Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, Seaworld, and Gatorland instead.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because "Escape from Tomorrow" is set in a conflated, fantasy version of Disneyland and Disney World, and huge parts of the footage were filmed in both without Disney's consent. Thus, the novelty factor of this movie is for people who've never been to them and wonder what they look like inside. Although you could learn just as much by browsing YouTube videos, this is supposed to be better because it's in black and white, is all so subversive, and is likely to get sued, even though it isn't. No, I don't get that last part either.

There's also a lot of faux intellectual bullshit being spread about "Escape from Tomorrow" suggesting that it's like the works of David Lynch, but I didn't notice any similarities to "The Elephant Man", "Dune", "Blue Velvet" or "Wild at Heart". Some of the scenes were clearly filmed using greenscreens, but the overall effect isn't distracting. Is that what David Lynch does? Maybe they are talking about a different David Lynch who goes round theme parks with a handycam. Having said that, "Escape from Tomorrow" isn't a bad movie, but it's far from being a great one either.


"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"

The crux of the story is that a henpecked, middle-aged man named Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is looking for a bit of the other on the final day of his vacation. Fired from his job, emasculated by his wife Emily (Elena Schuber), and with his mid-life crisis kicking in, he uses his kids (Jack Dalton and Katelynn Rodriguez) as a cover to clumsily stalk two teenage French girls who attract him by being so high on life (or whatever illegal substance it is that makes them unable to stop laughing). As clich├ęd and unoriginal as this rather neat borrowing from European-style dramas may be, this is the only bit of "Escape from Tomorrow" that's really good. The acting is decent, the stereotypical effects of a mid-life crisis are portrayed perfectly, and it's all quite believable.

A second "story arc" begins after Jim pervs on a nurse (Amy Lucas) who puts a bandaid on his daughter Sara's scraped knee, and then has an affair with a fairly attractive woman (Alison Lees-Taylor) of his own age instead of the Lolitas who, deep down, Jim knows that he doesn't stand a chance with anyway. Again, this is acceptable storytelling and nothing to strain your brain over. Maybe hooking-up with a stranger in a Disney park for a bit of kinky afternoon delight is far-fetched, but I'm sure stranger things have happened.

Later, although this is my interpretation rather than what is actually shown to happen, the two French girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) and their boyfriends realise that Jim is a bit of a sad/creepy pervert, and send the plainer girl with braces on her teeth over to boldly spit in his face and end his little game. Everything else can be written off as Jim's fantasies, daydreams, his mind wandering, his "fever dreams" as he dies from flu, or whatever else you want to call it. Because, if you accept anything else as Jim's reality, the rest of the movie falls apart afterwards.

The trouble is that, for God knows what reason, writer/director Randy Moore decided to completely bollocks-up everything (after the "intermission" at the 61 minute mark) with a totally incongrous scene set inside a mini version of the Epcot dome, wherein it's revealed that Jim is some kind of "sleeper agent" who is being used by the Siemens company to monitor the effects which exposure to the Disney park at a young age would have on his adult life, and in particular, his imagination. So it's all a big experiment being run by the technologically advanced powers-that-be behind the scenes a la "The Cabin in the Woods"? Some might say that this is "intentional misdirection" or playing with the rules of filmmaking, but I call it a gyp! What a pile of horseshit!

"It's a giant testicle!" ...on his head!

The story would have played out better if Jim had been tasered by park security for being a creepy stalker, and he then had to explain to his wife how he lost track of their daughter. The events which follow, including how he works out that his daughter has been kidnapped by the woman who he had an affair with, would then have a more satisfying flow to them and a solvable mystery rather than creating a load of headscratching for the hard of understanding. Unfortunately, I'm sure somewhere out there, there's an original European movie with precisely that plot (I just can't remember the name of it right now, but trust me, I will!), and Randy Moore didn't want to get sued by those filmmakers for plagiarism instead of being non-sued by the Disney corporation who couldn't give a damn about him. Scandal will sell a movie, but only if it's the right kind of scandal, eh?

There's more hogwash at the end in the form of Jim coughing up hairballs because he has "cat flu" (WTF?), and a group of "men in black"—or rather "men in overalls"—who take Jim's dead body away, implant his son Elliot with false happy memories of the Buzz Lightyear ride which he never went on instead of the sadness he probably doesn't even feel over the death of his father (if Jim even was his father), and clean everything up as if nothing ever happened: because nothing bad ever happens at Disney. Oh, it's all so "meta" and pseudo-philosophical that it makes you want to puke!

After two days of thinking about the epilogue and wasting my time by writing out a ten page ecphrasis of the movie to see if I'd missed something which would tie it together better, I can now happily explain it as nothing more than "a tragic reminder of the real life ambitions which the evil Disney corporation stole from one man". Jim isn't reborn, it isn't the afterlife. It's just a flashback to the "real" Jim in the part of his imagination which he never used, i.e. it's what we saw earlier in the mini Siemens minidome, hence why the Epcot dome is shown again just before the epilogue scene happens.

Yup, that's the big intellectual message of the movie and, give or take insulting the Disney Princesses/cosplay girls for being hookers for Japanese businessmen, and saying that the turkey legs (which are sold in the theme parks, not just Disney!) are really made of emu, that's all "Escape from Tomorrow" has got: Disney's brainwashing will stop you being what you are meant to be.

So will making or watching overhyped, shitty independent horror movies. Jog on.

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