Escape From Tomorrow: Sundance Review

A one-of-a-kind piece of subversive surrealism filmed clandestinely at Disney World is far too haphazard, but offers images that will long stick in the mind.

Randy Moore’s first feature, about a man who finds out he's been fired from his job while on vacation, was shot surreptitiously at Disney World.

PARK CITY -- It’s safe to say that anyone who sees Escape From Tomorrow will never again perceive a family-friendly amusement park in quite the same way. A bizarre, sophomoric, hallucinatory, sometimes funny and often an undisciplined prank, Randy Moore’s first feature is most notable as a gutsy provocation for having been shot surreptitiously at Disney World. The film’s immediate future will largely be determined by Disney‘s disposition toward the enterprise, whether the company decides it’s such small potatoes that they’ll just let it slide or slap an injunction on it to delay or prevent official distribution. A fringy undertaking by any standards, this one-off could find life after film festivals as a midnighter and with college students into the weird and trippy and surreal.

Moore is not the first to imagine the masses of middle-class Americans as automatons who have been culturally lulled, massaged and brainwashed by advertising, the media and other forms of soft propaganda. According to this mindset, the most effective instigators of this sort of corporate totalitarianism are often the makers of mainstream films and television, in particular giants like Disney who, much as Lenin advised, make it their business to mold the minds of children.

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Shot on the fly but with no jittery sense of nerves or panic, Escape documents the final day of a typical family of four’s vacation at Disney’s enormous Orlando park. Before setting out from the hotel, however, big-gutted dad Jim (Roy Abramsohn), gets a call notifying him he’s fired. Keeping the news to himself so as not to spoil the day, he, constantly badgering wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and cute blond kids Elliot (Jack Dalton) and little Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) hop on the monorail and start hitting the highlights, beginning with the girly rides.

Just seeing the gawdily colored, sun-splayed park in black-and-white is a bit of shock. Slowly, oddities accumulate: Wherever they go, Jim sees two flirty teenage French girls laughing and cavorting; Elliot’s eyes suddenly turn black; the Buzz Lightyear ride shuts down just as they prepare to board after an interminable wait; Jim is abruptly seen in bed with a weird vamp and then gets hideously drunk, after which he cuts his toe, loses his daughter as he obsesses about the French girls, watches the giant Epcot globe explode and gets tasered in the groin just before an “Intermission” is posted at the 70-minute mark.

As strange and vaguely intriguing as some of these incidents might be, most of the running time is devoted to seemingly arbitrary footage or random asides, to the point where exasperation forces the question of when something -- anything -- interesting or genuinely subversive is going to happen. You readily conclude that you’re watching a man losing his mind before your eyes, perhaps partly because he’s lost his job but mostly from sustained exposure to the benumbed, sheep-like experience of being managed and controlled in every aspect of his life, by his wife and the park.

The final 25 minutes begin with Jim, a captive in a Siemens company lab or “ride” called Spaceship Earth, after which things become grosser and more extreme, particularly in a disgusting toilet sequence.

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There’s a lot of redundant and filler-type material here; even for what it is, the film is at least 15 minutes too long and could certainly be improved by tightening. Its one big saving grace is its score. The music is almost uniformly magnificent, with an emphasis on soaring, emotional and inspiring themes in the grandest old Hollywood tradition. Indeed, Moore samples from some of the best film composers, including Bernard Herrmann and Zbigniew Preisner, but the soundtrack is augmented by original work by the brilliant younger Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski, who scored Tom Ford’s A Single Man and should definitely be sought soon by many other filmmakers.

Even as a quasi-experimental work of subjective surrealism, Escape From Tomorrow is massively erratic and isn't particularly original. But it must also be said that its take on Disney World, as well as many of its individual images, are indelible and  won’t be easily forgotten.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Next)
Production: Gioia Marchese Productions
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor
Director: Randy Moore
Screenwriter: Randy Moore
Producers: Soojin Chung, Gioia Marchese
Director of photography: Lucas Lee Graham
Production designers: Sean Kaysen, Lawrence Kim
Editor: Soojin Chung
Music: Abel Korzeniowski
Running time 104 minutes