The story behind the making of ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW has gotten ahead of the movie at this point - how the filmmakers infiltrated Walt Disney World, EPCOT, and Disneyland, made a narrative feature with hidden cameras that feels almost effortless, and managed to not get sued back to the Stone Age - and while it would make for a hell of a behind-the-scenes documentary in its own right, the whole thing would be moot if the film wasn't good. But director Randy Moore has created a movie that is truly subversive, surreal in all the best ways, and lays bare the ideals of American capitalism and excess while telling its story with economy and skill. ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is weird and unique, challenging the audience, while also being hilarious and truthful.
ESCAPE isn't as much an indictment of Disney as it would seem. Moore has a larger canvas in mind - that Americans, the entire cross-section of our culture, is just intrinsically strange. The theme park becomes an odd sort of Petri dish where all sorts of odd characters grow and bloom. If hell is other people, as Sartre suggests, then a Disney theme park must be an exquisite level of torture.
Jim (Roy Abramsohn, in a terrific performance) has just discovered, on the last day of his family vacation, that he's lost his job. Still, he has to put on a happy face for his wife (Elena Schuber) and children, but as they go into Walt Disney World, strange things seem to be happening - evil faces seem to be forming out of the beloved Disney rides, and the people all seem to be watching him. Jim becomes unnaturally obsessed with two young girls (way too young for Jim, anyway) in the park. Is Jim pursuing them specifically, or what they represent - youth, and beauty, and a carefree time without all the obligations of life? As the day grows longer, Jim becomes more unhinged, and the strange occurrences throughout the park become more and more sinister.
Moore's script is wise and cutting - he's not pointing any finger at Disney particularly (although there's plenty of strange to go around in a world where Mickey Mouse is more famous than Jesus, and a cartoonist is deified to an extreme degree), but at the American nature to find and worship the idolos of our capitalism. Walt Disney World is our Mecca, where all of America interacts, and it becomes apparent that living in the United States is a truly odd way of life. We are surrounded by the constant barrage of selling and buying, and all of it takes its toll, even if it's not apparent at the time. The satire of ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW runs deep and spares no one. We are all complicit in it.
For a movie shot on the sly, the cinematography (including the post effects work) is quite good - I half-expected to see shots behind bushes or walls, but that isn't the case at all. Moore also gets wonderful performances from his actors (it must have been extremely difficult to get as good a performance as they got from the children, considering the surroundings). Roy Abramsohn is an everyman, but anyone who works the daily grind will find his character relatable. How do we live in a world that is only interested in what you have to buy or sell? ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is a uniquely American story, and the more surreal the movie gets, like David Lynch, the more poignant and on-point it becomes. I consider myself lucky to have seen it at all, and it was a perfect film for this festival.