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Escape From Tomorrow

Year: 2013
Production Co: Mankurt Media
Director: Randy Moore
Writer: Randy Moore
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber

Plenty of movies are sold on mere gimmicks. We were all taken in by the then-jaw dropping 3D of Avatar – watch it again today and you'll see how badly written and acted it is. Bird Box became a meme-alicious phenomenon for Netflix more for idiots donning blindfolds and running into traffic than anything interesting about the story itself.

Boyhood had such a fascinating inception and creation it blinded everyone (including the Academy) to what a dreadful actor the lead was and how there was no beginning, middle or end, and Russian Ark was supposed to be one of the first movies filmed entirely in one continuous shot, but it was like watching paint dry.

By contrast, other movies that rise and fall on gimmicks have good stories well told behind the arresting contrivance. Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly (and Waking Life before it) used rotoscoped animation of live action footage but both had interesting things to say.

For all the eventual disdain about the Paranormal Activity franchise the first film was fantastic, using the found footage conceit (overused even at that stage) to great effect. Hungarian movie The Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen is one of the best times you can have watching a movie, and what hasn't been said about the audaciously brilliant (and brilliantly audacious) narrative construction of Memento isn't worth saying – see French heartbreaker 5x2 for a less showy example.

Of course, the USP of this film is the mythology behind its creation, all of it shot on location at Florida Disney World in secret and without Disney's knowledge or permission. The funniest thing was, not long after it came out, the company zealous about protecting its deeply valuable IP sued some random company for having a product with the name Frozen in its title, but didn't touch writer/director Randy Moore or distributors Spotlight Pictures.

There are a few scenes where the characters are obviously superimposed against the crowds and attractions of the park but for the most part, Moore seems to have gotten away with filming on the thoroughfares, in the hotels and even on some of the rides.

But after the gimmick, is there a story worth watching there? Yes and No. Jim (Roy Abrahamson), Emily (Elena Schuber) and their two kids are holidaying at Florida Disney, but all's not well in the family.

The morning of their final day, Jim gets a call from his boss, who fires him. He keeps it from his family, not wanting to put a dampener on their trip, but when he sees two free-spirited teenage French girls getting on the guest transport to the park, skipping and holding hands like a pair of water nymphs, we stop feeling quite as sorry for Jim as he ogles and fantasises about them a bit too much.

The family goes on the rides, eats the junk food and goes about their day, but things rapidly turn strange. Jim starts hallucinating strange characters and images while on the rides. After he and Emily argue, they take a kid each and go their own way to blow off steam, but Jim uses it as an excuse to follow the two French girls when he spots them in the crowds.

Then it goes from strange to really weird. He meets a very sensuous woman on one of the park benches, they start chatting, and after she brings up an urban myth about the true origin of the turkey legs he blacks out, waking up in a hotel room in the middle of having sex with her.

Later, back in the park, another family is abusive towards Jim and his daughter, shoving her carelessly. After she gets a scraped knee Jim takes her to the park sick bay where the nurse seems to be anywhere else but the happiest place on Earth. A van with some very official people keeps pulling up at the hotel and peering at him up on his balcony.

After being so skeezy all day pursuing two women who are much too young for him – but who seem to be aware of and invite his advances – he finally catches up with them, one of whom invites him to accompany them and the boys they're with. He realises he shouldn't and she promptly spits a mouthful of her drink in his face and walks off.

From there it goes full Lynch as Jim is tazed by a security guard and wakes up detained in an underground science lab/bunker where a scientist explains to him that the real Jim is someone else entirely, showing him video footage of himself dressed differently and with a whole new family. He somehow escapes the scientist, who turns out to be a robot, and makes it back to the room of the woman he ended up in bed with, apparently some kind of succubus who's now holding his daughter captive.

But Jim escapes her too, getting back to their room where his wife's already asleep. He puts his daughter to bed, goes into the bathroom desperate to void his bowels, and after an agonising time he starts vomiting up blood and hairballs, pleading with his son – who's got up to see what the noise is – for help.

I call it Lynchian because there are so many oddball motifs that come up and go nowhere, like the mention of cat flu, the old Disney urban myth that the turkey legs are actually emu, the prostitution ring where rich Asian businessmen buy the services of Disney princesses employed by the park and countless others. They all add up to something that surely makes sense to Moore and his team, but like much of Lynch's work you'll get few real answers in the end despite guessing the entire way through.

Maybe it's the story of what happens to a middle aged man's brain when he's trapped in such a hellhole with stifling heat and sexual temptation everywhere, only too aware that what's presented as a fantasyland of fun and frolic is a bank balance-sucking nightmare of artifice and crass commercialism.

Or maybe it's just a collection of urban myths that have long dogged the Disney company made flesh. There's a repeated motif about a guy getting killed on Thunder Mountain Railroad, which really happened, the company had to admit someone was actually running prostitution rings using employees, and the cat flu might be about the feral cats they let roam the ground at night keeping the rat populations down. You'd probably have to talk to Moore himself to ask about any metaphor or subtext.

But after you spend the first few minutes marvelling at the logistical challenge it must have been to plan for continuity (given it's all in black and white, which reduces the number of colouring and grading cheats you can make), wrangle crowds who didn't know they were being wrangled and go on rides countless times for a certain shot, you start waiting for a story to happen. Fortunately it does, and even though it doesn't make a lot of sense and doesn't really explain itself, it's inventive in an off-the-wall way.

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