Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In Which Jenn Has Thoughts On Escape from Tomorrow


So, Escape from Tomorrow - that much-hyped and agonized-over piece of indie film, making Walt Disney World into a horror show. Has anyone else seen it? I know I'm way late to the party, but I finally did! And here, in a nutshell, is what I thought: kinda boring, made no sense.

Okay, that's a little glib. To clarify, I want to point out that I am not giving it a poor review because of any perceived anti-Disney sentiment. For all the fuss about it being a horror movie filmed without permission, I don't think Walt Disney World was a silent villain so much as a backdrop. It's a place where people are supposed to be happy, and the juxtaposition of the family's misery felt like more a device than any particular stab at the Disney company specifically. Sure, they weren't painting the park(s)* in a great light, but there was nothing about the plot that couldn't have been adjusted for a vacation in, say, the Grand Canyon, or a generic amusement park, or any other traditional family getaway. Anyone looking to Escape to Tomorrow as a modern horror fable about the evils of mega-corporations and/or modern entertainment trends is going to be disappointed.

* They do know that we know that only Disneyland has an outdoor portion of it's a small world, right? I'm just saying. It's kinda jarring and takes you out of the moment when you're suddenly on a different coast.

WARNING: THIS IS WHERE SPOILERS START TO KICK IN

Indeed, any anti-Disneyism largely comes from the perspective of the viewer, be it someone who already hates Disney or someone who loves it so much that they pounce on any perceived slight. Heck, the robot scientists who traps the protagonist dad Jim in Spaceship Earth for a brief time even goes so far as to say that Disney has no idea the lab is down there. Sure, he could be lying, but there are no indications of duplicity.

Yes, there is one moment where the mom starts to see faces mutate and has her own minor nervous breakdown, declaring "It's this place!" Yet like the father, her visions are brought about by a barely contained fury - it's not the place, it's the place reflecting her own psyche.

And yes, you have the D-Team cleanup crew coming in at the end and making all trace of evidence of Jim's death vanish, but it's not like Disney had a hand in that death. As far as I can tell.

Which leads me to my largest complaint: WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED?! Pretty much everything after the "Intermission" card has me utterly perplexed. Wait, Jim is important somehow? No, his son is important somehow? To the point where if he rode Buzz Lightyear it would be a problem? The Siemens Robot Scientist is... helping? Hurting? Is never heard from again because there are seemingly no consequences to Jim decapitating him? Why is the Disney nurse crying already? Is she an oracle or something?

What about the French teenagers? When Jim was just being creepy and stalking them, that was unsettling but at least it made sense: he was furthering his own psychological breakdown. But when one of the girls approached him like she was involved in some larger plot (again: helping? Hurting?) it unraveled a lot of the internal logic.

Actually, I think that would've fixed a lot of the problems with the plot if you lifted just those two scenes: the bit inside Spaceship Earth with the robot scientist that ascribes some greater overarching importance to the situation, and the bit where the French girl approaches Jim and speaks to him like she's an agent in a spy movie. Even if her spitting on him is supposed to be what gives him (gross) cat flu, it would make more sense both on the surface and as allegory if that contact was accidental and facilitated by Jim being too close for innocence.

So you would go directly from Jim being a perv regarding the teenage girls, to Jim sleeping with that random woman (which could be explained by him blocking out his own inappropriate behavior by pretending to be the victim of "witchcraft," a known synonym for what Disney calls "magic;" if you read it literally it's just another illogical fantasy element) to Jim getting too close to said teenage girls, contracting "cat flu" as a metaphor for his poor moral character, and dying of a sick mind as manifested by a sick body.

The reason that, to my mind as least, this works is because it makes it less ambiguous as to whether Jim is battling internally or externally. And I know, I know - filmmakers LOVE ambiguity. But there is ambiguity, and then there is muddled plot. I suppose you could claim that the conversation with the French girl is a product of Jim's imagination (although it isn't shot like daydreams he has earlier in the film). But throwing in such an absolutely wild flight of fancy as the whole robot doctor sequence takes it from "Huh, that's interesting. I wonder if..." to "Wait... what? But what about...?" Sure, you can argue the whole thing takes place in Jim's head, but if so, his internal producer suddenly decided to take a completely different approach to how the inside of his head was shot. You can't just switch your visual cues that late in the game.

In conclusion, I don't subscribe to the idea that Escape from Tomorrow is a horror film about Walt Disney World. It is a horror film that happens to take place in WDW, in which a man engenders his own demise by indulging in inappropriate behavior while on vacation. This is Man Goes Nuts While At Disney, not Man Goes Nuts Because Of Disney. And once you get past the novelty of the setting, the results are subpar.

All that having been said, if you're a big WDW fan, I would encourage you to see it, if only to stir up some healthy debate. We who love WDW tend to be completists with the attention to detail of miniaturists, and hey, the movie DOES take place in WDW. And it is its connection to that pantheon that gave Escape from Tomorrow what clout it has, so I suppose the ultimate message is this: all hail the Disney corporation! Truly its power is staggering.

Have you seen Escape from Tomorrow? What did you think? Am I totally off base here?

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8 comments:

  1. I was first made aware of this movie last Feb/March when I read about it and was wondering if it would really come to fruition! I admit, I did not read the whole post because I did not want to read the spoilers ( thanks for posting that by the way). I can't say I would be extremely interested in the movie other wise, but because it was filmed at Disney, I will make an effort to see it, (Wouldn't all Disney fans??) Anyway, Where did you see this movie? Theaters, dvd, Netflix?

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    1. I, shall we say, know people who have ways. [insert shifty eyes here] I know its downloadable via iTunes and likely Amazon as well, but I'm not sure if you have the option to rent - all I saw on iTunes was purchase, and personally I don't think it's worth it (although it's not crazy expensive or anything). If you have some form of VOD, I think some of those have it, and it might pop up on the Sundance channel in time.

      When you see it, let me know what you think! I'm curious as to whether others have the same interpretation I do.

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  2. I don't think I would want to see anything that didn't portray Disney as the Happiest Place on Earth.

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    1. Fair! But really I think Disney's involvement was more incidental than anything else. I continue to love Disney without issue. :)

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  3. It's on the list of if-i-ever-run-out-of-things-to-watch-i'll-watch-it list but with the holiday movies coming up I'm going to guarantee that won't happen til at least after new year's. I WILL agree with you that there's a difference between a crappy plot and a plot that ambiguous enough to allow a variety of interpretations. This sounds like the former more than the latter.
    I kinda want to see it, though...

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    1. Exactly - we just have to see what they did to our beloved WDW. Tricksy devils!

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  4. It sounds like we had pretty similar reactions. Once the movie basically went all nonsensical after the "intermission" — and not, like, David Lynch-esque structured nonsensical, just batshit nonsensical — I really gave up on it. Honestly, I would've preferred a movie about a guy being slowly driven insane by WDW and not by these outside influences while he happens to be at WDW, as it would've at least given meaning to the setting and superfluous park shots.

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    1. I agree completely! WDW is such a potentially rich setting, and to my mind it was pretty much wasted. Making Disney a complicit villain would've at least been potentially interesting.

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