‘Escape from Tomorrow’ Review
‘Escape from Tomorrow‘ is a film that shouldn’t be possible — not just because it was filmed without consent at Disneyworld in Florida, but due to the sheer audacity of some of the (not always successful) ideas and visuals on display. The film follows Jim White, a middle-aged guy on vacation with his wife and two kids at the happiest place on earth. On the last day of vacation, Jim finds out he lost his job, an event that sends him into a spiral that’s part mid-life crisis, part psychosis. ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ subverts expectations with its near-psychedelic transformation of Disneyworld from place of joy and comfort to hellish landscape of evil.
The film is arguably at its best in the first two-thirds, as we watch Jim’s slow descent into craven madness. He follows two teenage French girls around the park, dragging his kids into the stalking routine — his wife isn’t oblivious, eyeing him with exasperation, while his precious and innocent daughter regards him with wise skepticism. His son seems like a chip off the old block, at first eager to follow the nubile teens around the park as he experiences his first hormonal pangs, but later turning on his father when the old man makes him take a vomit-inducing spin on Space Mountain. Jim allows his baser instincts to dictate his decision-making, often ignoring his family in pursuit of an impossible dream.
‘Escape from Tomorrow’ functions in part as an indictment of a very specific, middle-aged white male insecurity — but what makes the concept fascinating is that this could be any middle-class white American dad wearing khakis in a theme park. The kind of guy you wouldn’t give a second glance, the kind of guy who might have been your dad slowly losing his mind. Taking away Jim’s career at the beginning of the film pushes him over the narrow cliff on which he was already situated, his nerves on edge as all adults are when they visit a mecca of promised happiness with their demanding children in tow. Expectations are at their peak and emotions are wildly heightened, and all of this is exacerbated when Jim starts hallucinating; trippy visuals transform the characters on theme park rides, warping their eyes and teeth into evil, mocking faces, honing in on Jim’s middle-class insecurities.
Jim’s paranoia, combined with his unseemly fixation on the teen girls, breeds a peculiar form of self-importance — as a white, middle-aged man, Jim feels innately entitled, but with his career gone, he’s in a state of regression. His wife is nagging him to take care of their kids, further emasculating him; the teen girls may or may not be subtly flirting with him, and it’s enough of a push to get him to disregard his familial duties on the off-chance that one of these young women might restore his manhood.
‘Escape from Tomorrow’ goes a bit off the (mono)rail in the third act, becoming the Adult Swim version of a National Lampoon’s ‘Vacation’ flick — there’s an evil woman who may or may not be a witch, a secret facility deep in the heart of the giant Epcot sphere run by the Siemens corporation (a gag that is exploited to the fullest extent), pornographic daydreams on a flight simulation ride, something called the “cat flu” (which provides one of the most horrifying but simple visuals you’ll see this year), and an ending that will have you over-thinking what’s real and what’s not.
And while not every one of the many huge visual concepts and plot elements sticks to massive Disney wall at which they’ve been aggressively hurled, and while not every idea feels fully-cooked or followed through, there’s no denying the hypnotic, dizzying ride on which the film takes you — ‘Escape from Tomorrow’ is a Disney theme park ride from the most delightfully sinister recesses of suburban hell.