leave a comment --Jason Buchanan
If the joyous artifice of Walt Disney World leaves you more unnerved than ecstatic, Randy Moore’s <I>Escape From Tomorrow</I> may shake you to your very core. An eerie testament to micro-budget innovation, this fascinating yet flawed fantasy thriller is worth a look just to see how the filmmakers managed to covertly shoot an entire feature in one of the world’s most popular amusement parks. No doubt the behind-the-scenes story of <I>Escape From Tomorrow</I> is as riveting as any of the conspiratorial strangeness that drives Moore’s debut, and even if the movie seems to unravel right along with the distressed father at the center of it, the fact that it exists at all makes it worth your time.<P><P>
Loving husband and father Jim (Roy Abramsohn) learns that he has lost his job during a family vacation with his wife Emily (Elena Schuber) and their two kids at a world-famous theme park. He then grows increasingly obsessed with two vivacious teenage girls, clandestinely following them around the park, all while experiencing an acute break from reality and keeping his newly unemployed status a secret from his unsuspecting family. At the same time, something strange is unfolding beneath the concrete of this manufactured paradise, and as Jim’s hallucinations become increasingly bizarre, a seductive stranger (Alison Lees-Taylor) and a mysterious scientist offer glimpses into the dark side of this popular getaway.<P><P>
From the opening shot of two spiky-haired boys riding a roller coaster, Moore’s intentions are laid bare: He’s taking us on a ride and we better hold on tight. Like any good roller coaster, <I>Escape From Tomorrow</I> starts out with a jolt (Jim losing his job) before slowly, steadily pulling us up that first massive hill -- where we get a foreboding overview of the wild ride to come. For a short while after Jim catches a glimpse of the two French girls on the shuttle into the park, the film simply allows us to soak in the theme park’s surreal atmosphere. Just when it begins to feel as if Moore and his crew are padding the drama with a little too much ride footage, however, we begin to see things from Jim’s distorted perspective and realize that something has gone terribly wrong. To Moore’s credit as a writer and director, we’re almost certain at the onset that Jim’s disturbing visions are a direct result of the recent stress he’s experienced, and that his growing fixation on the two French girls stems from his obvious marital problems (his dialogue and physical interactions with Emily suggest that he is more tolerated than loved).<P><P>
Later, when Jim wanders off with his daughter and falls under the spell of a seductive mother, this psychological thriller begins to take on apocalyptic undertones that, while somewhat fascinating, merely raise more questions than they answer -- especially once Jim finds himself below the iconic Spaceship Earth ride (an obvious stand-in for Space Mountain), where a mysterious “servant of the Siemens Corporation” monitors Jim’s imagination, revealing his true self. Though these ideas are admittedly compelling (and presented in a manner that is positively convincing), the writing appears unequipped to explore them in a way that’s genuinely satisfying in this context. Of course, some might argue that this is precisely what gives <I>Escape From Tomorrow</I> its mind-bending edge, though even something as willfully abstruse as Shane Carruth’s <I>Primer</I> leaves us with the impression that the filmmaker had a firm grasp on his concept; <I>Escape From Tomorrow</I> ultimately feels like Moore isn’t quite sure quite how the story coheres.<P><P>
Even so, the film is never boring and -- with the notable exceptions of hammy Lee Armstrong (as a scooter-riding stranger) and malevolent Lees-Taylor -- the performances are convincingly naturalistic. A movie of this nature probably couldn’t have been made with a name cast, but that’s to its advantage: Moore’s effective utilization of unknown actors and vivid black-and-white photography allows us to forget reality and become lost in the fantasy (especially as Abel Korzeniowski’s elegant score twists comforting, Disney-inspired string arrangements into the stuff of nightmares). Even if this ride leaves us wanting more, it’s impossible not to marvel at the exceptional craftsmanship behind its construction.