Editor’s note: Michael’s review of Escape From Tomorrow originally ran during this year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-running it now as the film hits VOD and a limited theatrical release.
Childhood is a chaotic sprawl of experiences; an eyelid flutter filtered through emotion, strained and catalogued down to core memories. Often times the way things happened aren’t the way they wind up interpreted. A wave of time passing can be a sticky mess to wade through, especially if going it alone. The day Jim (Roy Abramsohn) lost his job was the day he became a solitary man, stunted in fantasy and regressing to an age of wonder.
Rather than spoil his family’s last day of vacation he keeps the news to himself. Herding kids around a theme park while keeping his wife happy is enough of a complication on its own. For Jim, wringing the pleasure out of the day before an inevitable crash comes calling is about all that he has going for him. That is until some young French girls give him a bit of attention on the monorail. For one day he has a new spark, a new reason to smile and a new fantasy to chase.
With his family acting as an extension of his reason and will, what should be a fun family vacation creeps into some terrifically strange territory. Jim is just a man with wants and needs like any other. His desires and responsibilities fight for dominance and everything around him stands to be collateral damage. Should he nurse his daughters scraped knee or take a peek down the nurse’s blouse? Should he drink a margarita after having a bunch of beer? Should he buy his wife an overpriced Dumbo bell or a Minnie Mouse one (it matters)? From forcing his son on a ride that makes him puke to cleaning bloody socks in a public restroom; following Jim is like tracking a roving earthquake that rattles everyone he comes into contact with. He’s a one man storm bringing to fruition his dark wishes only to smash those dreams and rebuild them, all staged at the “Happiest Place on Earth.”
To discuss Escape From Tomorrow without a bit of back story on the production side of things does the film a bit of a disservice. Director Randy Moore initially set out to make a small effort exploiting his friends’ talents and get back into film making. The production ballooned into a kaleidoscope of clandestine film-making, using Disney World as a backdrop and unapologetically casting the park as a character in itself. Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham managed to do more than just steal shots, they successfully brought a nightmare to life in one of the least suspecting destinations.
Moore’s handling of Jim’s cautionary tale of excess through unexpected circumstances is a jittery ride, it’s also a lot of fun. For one, Jim is as an oddly charismatic figure. It’s easy to shake your head at his actions or chuckle through his motions like he was an old friend. He also makes a lot of bad decisions. From unsuccessfully making out with his wife on kiddie rides to stalking teenage girls around the park to getting wasted in front of strangers, he’s a remarkable presence and one you oddly root for. By the time the closing credits roll his journey has washed over in a bizarre tide and to soak it in is a delight in itself.
Perception is a dangerous and grand playground. Escape From Tomorrow understands its frailty and chooses to break its brittle bones with a huge grin across its face. A scene where a woman explains that the park’s turkey drumsticks are actually emu and that people wouldn’t buy them if they knew what it really was, offers a bit of what’s at stake in the film. Its a picture of a spiral into madness through an exploded imagination that sees what it wants to see. A child’s eye view of an adult world and an adult view of things childishly taken for granted. At once we see the wonder and allure of the unknown bounce between adults and children alike. Boundaries, expectations, delights and fears play off each other like funhouse mirror images, blurring lines between desire and reality until the two are inseparable (getting laid and Buzz Lightyear go hand in hand in a magically off-kilter way). It’s black and white polish leaves a lot of gray areas and its in those pockets where the real magic happens.
The Upside: It’s an ambitious effort from start to finish and hard to take your eyes off of. Roy Abramsohn owns the screen in a performance that is humorous and horrific. Lastly it’s a master course in guerrilla film-making with balls big enough to carve a second Grand Canyon.
The Downside: There is little not to appreciate. Only a few very minor pacing issues but that aside it is a cool breeze on a sunny day.
On the Side: For the ride scenes, actors would wait in line for up to five hours, only to leave when they got to the ride and return to the end of the line for coverage. This was particularly hard on the child actors who just wanted to go on the rides.