1. Escape from Tomorrow
Easily the most polarizing and buzzworthy film at Sundance, newcomer Randy Moore’s surreal horror Escape from Tomorrow is inaccessible, confusing, and absolutely brilliant. While I admit that I wanted to see it because I heard it was secretly filmed at Disney World and would therefore never see the light of day again, I was pleasantly surprised by just how animated I was when I left the theater.
The film opens on a balcony overlooking The Happiest Place on Earth, on which Jim (Rob Abramson) is getting fired from his job via unsympathetic phone call. In the hopes of finishing off his family vacation on a superficially high note, he hides this from his wife and kids.But the secrecy gets to him and, soon, he starts hallucinating and acting up. He stalks two underage French girls (“Why are we following those girls?” his son asks– and then, before Jim can give a satisfying answer, “They’re pretty, aren’t they?”) who may not be as innocent as he thinks. He wakes up in the middle of the afternoon, tied to the bed of an ex-Disney princess, with his daughter asleep in the other room. He gets drunk at Epcot and throws up in the middle of a fake Mexican river. You know, family stuff. After a brief “Intermission,” shit hits the fan and Escape from Tomorrow turns into a bonafide B-movie, part kitschy sci-fi horror flick and part psychological thriller. (Of course, Moore manages to throws in some great self-referential humor, bleeping the one occurrence of the word “Disney,” panning from a statue of Walt to the word “Jesus” skywritten above him, warning against the dangers of “cat flu.”)
This particular blending of genres lends itself to comparisons with David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and Gus Van Sant– all of whom Moore names as influencers. In fact, if David Lynch decided to film a dsytopian thriller at Disney World, it would look a lot like Escape from Tomorrow and Kubrick would likely applaud cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham’s attention to both aesthetic and technical feats. At no point does Escape from Tomorrow feel like a shitty “found footage” film; in fact; the team did a great job using their secret filming to their advantage. Shots are often angled harshly– presumably out of necessity, but it forces the viewer into watching a strange meltdown from a strange perspective. The entire movie is shot in black and white, with harsh shadows and isolated light turning rides like It’s A Small World into a journey down the river Stix. The green screens are terrible, but in a way that somehow adds to the Twilight Zone feel. Last but definitely not least, Abel Korzeniowski’s score does a beautiful job both building upon the wholesome orchestral pieces used in old Disney cartoons and highlighting the bizarre and grotesque with minimalist electronica.
Escape from Tomorrow is the kind of film that you need to talk about the second you get out of the theater– and while your first words will probably be “What the fuck did I just watch?”, you’ll quickly move on to frantic theorizing. One of the best theories I heard was that Jim had been a Disney Imagineer and his resentment at being stuck in the corporate World that fired him is what triggered his nightmarish hallucinations. Although not explicitly said in the film and not exactly what the filmmaker intended, this theory does tie everything together nicely.
Part of the reason Escape from Tomorrow is ripe for such theorizing is because Moore explores countless universal themes: the feeling of being trapped, the struggle of expectations, the loss of innocence, the distance between family. Strip away the surrealism and the story is simply about Moore’s own relationship with his father:
We had a great time [when I was younger], it was magical, but then our relationship fell apart. I haven’t seen him in a quite a long time. So when we went back to Disney World, it was like he was there as a ghost. We were going on the same rides I used to go on with him, but now we’re no longer talking anymore. (Indiewire)
With each child representing a part of Moore — the daughter absolutely idolizes Jim, while his son distrusts him to the point of sabotaging him — Escape from Tomorrow examines what happens when you discover that your heroes are not just flawed, but weak. Immoral. Villainous. It’s a soul-shattering revelation disguised as an outrageous B-movie and I can only hope that someone has the courage to let it be shared with the world.
For four other films I loved the shit of at Sundance, head over to Escape from Sundance 2013.
Think I missed something about Escape From Tomorrow? Leave a comment below.