Friday, July 11, 2014

Escape from Tomorrow Review

I've said in other reviews, such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire, that the production of some movies are far more interesting than the resulting movie itself. That is certainly the case with Escape from Tomorrow (2013). It was filmed at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland without permission from The Walt Disney Company. That alone was a major draw for audiences of this independent film. It ended up being a weird movie that made less sense as the movie progressed.
Jim White (Roy Abramsohn) is an unsatisfied middle-aged man, on vacation to Disney World with his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), and his two small children, Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and Eliot (Jack Dalton). Already distracted and dissatisfied, he receives the news that he's been fired from his job, which pushes him over the brink. Something inside Jim snaps. He is impatient and then bitter toward his wife and kids, develops a pathetic sexual obsession with two beautiful French teenage girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru), and hallucinates sinister visions on harmless rides. The park environment soon turns to something more sinister as Jim discovers its secrets. Jim must protect his adventurous kids, placate his suspicious wife, and defend himself against the “Happiest Place on Earth”.
Guerrilla filmmaking is a form of independent filmmaking characterized by quickly shooting scenes in real locations without any warning, and without obtaining permission from the owner of the locations. This is usually done because they don't have the budget to get permits. Larger studios tend to avoid this tactic because of the risk of being sued or having their reputation damaged due to negative PR exposure. 28 Days Later did some Guerrilla filmmaking in a few scenes. Escape from Tomorrow is the most ambitious piece of Guerrilla filmmaking I've ever seen. Disney has a reputation for being very protective of its intellectual property, and having a movie filmed on their turf right under their noses is major snub to the mega corporation.
A lot of it was filmed on location in the Disney Parks in Florida, and on a few actual rides. The cast and crew had to be very careful to avoid detection from Disney's park security. They kept their scripts on their iPhones and were shooting on hand-held cameras similar to those used by park visitors. This is the ultimate guerrilla art. It lashes out against the placid, sexless, clean-scrubbed version of happiness peddled by Disney, not because it thinks sanitized diversions have no place in American life, but because the Disney vision is so blandly oppressive. Escape from Tomorrow isn't intending to defame Disney or drag its name though the mud, but rather parody or satirize its squeaky clean image.
The whole movie is shot in black and white. If you've ever been to, or seen Disneyland, you'll know how very cheerful and garish the color scheme is. The lack of color coupled with the camera work gave the parks a very eerie feel, which was further impacted by sinister faces superimposed over jovial smiles of the characters on the "It's a Small World" ride. None of the park's music was actually used in the film. A score was composed to imitate the reparative saccharine tunes heard on some of the rides as it might sound once a fed up park guest starts to tune it out and it becomes a jovial buzz in the background. This vision of the Disney Parks is fascinating and foreboding.
The story in Escape from Tomorrow didn't make much sense. The connection between scenes isn't always clear, but since Jim is gradually losing his marbles, the disconnectedness fits in a way. The themes and mood of the film are too narrow to support the length of the story. It's fine that we never leave Jim's perspective, and that the whole story is shaped (or deformed) by his mix of despair, lust, and resentment. Many great movies have stayed anchored to one character's point-of-view. The problem here is that Jim's psyche isn't interesting enough to wallow in for 90 minutes. The supporting characters offer no relief from the monotony of his distress; they aren't written to suggest that there's more to them than what Jim sees. The teenage girls never seem like anything more than dirty-old-man fantasies, Lolitas skipping, laughing, and teasing him. Emily is rarely more than a suffering spouse or a griping shrew.  Similar to the mental breakdown in Dark Water, we don't quite get a full picture of the story which complements the confusion and uncertainty Jim is experiencing. And yet, the ending comes completely out of nowwhere, makes very little sense, and only raises more questions when it should be resolving questions for the conclusion. The story had a lot of potential, but ended up falling far short of what it could be, especially given the pains that were taken to film it.
Escape from Tomorrow is the ultimate guerrilla art. It took some bold moves in filming, and shows us a skewed version of Disney that is steeped in science fiction and paranoia. The story isn't interesting enough to justify the length of the movie, and the characters are mostly uninspiring. The camera work is impressive, and the filming locations are highly impressive given the risks taken. After the movie's initial success at Sundance, Disney became aware of it. The director, Randy Moore, took meticulous care to avoid overt copyright infringement . Even with a shot of a Mickey Mouse character interacting with park guests, Disney hasn't taken legal action yet and seems to have chosen to ignore Escape from Tomorrow. As it is an independent film it is not rated, but some of Jim's fantasies include topless women; for that it would probably get an R rating. This isn't something to watch with youngsters present even with all the Disney motifs. I truly have no desire to see this ever again, but I do appreciate it as a piece of cinematic art that challenged the way films are made.

Guerrilla filmmaking has potential to capture some very interesting locations. What do you think an interesting location for a guerrilla filmmaking movie would be? I think something filmed at a variety of different Wal-Marts might be intriguing. Comment below and tell me what you think!

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