The great thing about Netflix is that you get to watch free movies online. Okay, maybe not exactly free, but once you’ve paid your negligible monthly fee, there’s a whole buffet of movies just waiting for your fat ass to partake – and it’s all you can eat! Some movies are more salad bar, and some are more sundae bar, but if you take a little of each, you’ll end up with a nicely rounded meal.
I happen to have a soft spot for independent film, but those are like the shrimps of an all you can eat buffet in Vegas. Tempting, but dicey. You never know if you’re going to score with cheap and delicious seafood, or win a free trip to the nearest toilet, where you’ll stay for the rest of your vacation. But since I like to live on the edge, I gave Escape From Tomorrow a go.
A debut for writer and director Randy Moore, it’s a black and white fantasy horror that recounts the last day of a family vacation where the father has just learned that he’s lost his job. It was shot guerrilla-style in the Disney World park without Disney’s knowledge or consent. They kept scripts hidden on iPhones and used only handheld cameras that other tourists might use. They were never discovered.
The family vacation is not like a trip to Disney that I’ve ever been on. The rides and animatronics are familiar, they seem the same parades of characters, but poor unemployed dad starts to have some really disturbing visions. Like, super disturbing.
The film makers plotted the sun’s positioning weeks in advance since they knew they couldn’t bring it lighting, but chose to render it in black and white to help ease the issue. To avoid detection, Moore felt he could risk 3 or 4 takes of any given scene at most, and he had his actors wear digital recorders taped to their bodies rather than have visible mics. The cast and crew bought season passes to both Disney World and Disney Land, and despite the fact that they rode It’s a Small World over and over wearing the exact same clothes, they never attracted attention from park staff.
Moore was so paranoid about Disney finding out, he took the film to South Korea for editing. It debuted at Sundance under shrouds of secrecy – and you can understand that a film that shot illegally in its parks and depicted the princess characters who pose endlessly for photos with your kids as high-priced hookers for Asian businessmen might be frowned upon by the house of mouse. Reviewers encouraged people to “see it while they could” but a Disney lawsuit never materialized. They have widely ignored the film, choosing not to add to the hype machine that was quickly gaining steam.
At the end of the day though, I think this movie is more fun to discuss than to watch. Yes, it’s audacious and ballsy and possibly the future of film-making. But it’s only sometimes successful in its execution, and the surreal stuff pushes the boundaries a little too far. There’s an intermission an hour in (I could have sworn it was more like 3) – and I was ready to be done. Turns out, the worst was still to come. So did this little Netflix experiment turn out to be bad shrimp? It may have made me a little queasy, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.