Monday, 5 January 2015

Review: Escape From Tomorrow

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2014)
Director: Randy Moore
Screenplay: Randy Moore
Starring: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor

Synopsis is here:

Despite suddenly appearing on Netflix awkwardly, like a Vine comedian whose has been deemed sexist, Escape from Tomorrow caused quite a stir within cinephiles due to its conception. Its director; Randy Moore uses a combination of iPhones for scripting and consumer grade DSLR cameras to create an entire feature film within Disneyland, Florida, without permission from the owners. Moore's film holds more footage of Mickey's merchandise, rides and scenery than a regular Hollywood feature would be able to legitimately pay for. When viewing the film in its entirety, you can see it's not just a gutsy move, but a logistical nightmare. The film was clearly planned in a way to conceal what Moore and his crew was actually doing. Moore himself was so worried that someone might catch what he was up to, he edited the film in South Korea.

While one could deem the shoot problematic, you can't say that all the work wasn't worth it. Moore is able to show the "happiest place on earth" in a negative view, while avoiding Disney's notorious lawyers. Fair play to the man. Yet despite this, I found Escape from Tomorrow's origins to be more interesting than the film itself. Moore's film; a deeply personal film that delves into a newly unemployed man; Jim White, descending into madness during his family's last day at Disney, is often hampered by the guerrilla tactics that allow the film to even be. The film's blurry, out of focus monochrome visuals were considered by the director not only to ease the pressure of editing, but to shape the bizarre imagery itself. This brings mixed results, as the film is a blend of artsy home video and rushed student production. Unlike the early fixtures of the mumblecore movement, the film never feels at ease visually. Yet in a ludicrous catch-22, the film could not be produced in any other way. At one point, a family argument ends with the camera fumbling gracelessly at the infamous castle merely to establish that once again, Disney is the backdrop.

Escape from Tomorrow also suffers from a flaky narrative which nods towards the surreal but lacks true cohesion. We witness Disney Princesses shown to be high class hookers to Asian businessmen, how does this connect with hypnotising evil queens, cat flu outbreaks and a regressive sci-fi experiment? The connective tissue is irritatingly loose. There's clearly a way of making all this ambition gel, but possibly not by having the protagonist father ogling underage teens. Making this one of the driving factors of the plot does little to drive compassion. Then again, the White family is difficult to draw any empathy from in the first place. 

I found myself comparing EFT to Clare Denis' Bastards (2013), a film which starts out as equally as oblique as this one, albeit not as surreal. Bastards also follows an unsympathetic family, and yet the film's tone, the performances and mosaic editing had me absorbed in its puzzle. Escape from Tomorrow struggles under the weight of what it is, and so never truly comes together emotionally or conceptually.

Escape from Tomorrow never really gains a sense of self, although it does well to push the "sinster Disney" angle. This only ever feels like part of the puzzle. Moore; whose childhood clearly has ties to both Disney and his own father (their relationship deteriorated as Moore grew), clearly wishes to excavate some demons with his piece. Some elements work conceptually while the underlying themes could speak volumes if Moore had more time to work on the film's flaws. At a time in which critic A.O Scott laments at mainstream America's arrested development, Escape from Tomorrow's setting and ideas set a troubling reminder of how childhood fantasy, adult mortality and capitalist ideals can converge and warp the sense of family intimacy. Watching the film after the Sony Hack also help illustrate how one can take a pot shot at corporations by using creative methods or destructive ones. One does hope that more can distil some of his ambition and implement his talents into something that won't have him looking over his shoulder constantly.