One of the biggest oddities of 2013 is this independent film that was shot inside Disney World (and Disney Land) without anyone from Disney knowing about it. What was made from that footage is supposed to be one of the most bizarre and inflammatory films to ever try and get one over on the Mouse House. I’ve been waiting to see this movie for a long time, and I’m SO glad that Netflix picked it up. Is it any good? Read on to find out!
Before the movie begins, we get this message which is basically a fuck you to Disney.
Next we see a montage of candid, idyllic footage of Disney World with beautiful music and credits being inter-cut. This is presumably to convey the atmosphere that Disney World is supposed to provide so that when the movie goes off the rails, we can see just how depraved we’ve gotten from where we started. This footage goes on for about a minute or two before it ends with someone getting their fucking head chopped off and the title popping up.
Right off the bat, this movie is letting you know that it’s not fucking around. After the decapitation, we meet our hero Jim who’s finding out that he’s been fired. It’s the last day of the family’s vacation at Disney World, and he decides to not spoil it by telling them what happened. The limitations of the production become apparent (LOTS of ambient audio) but for my money, it’s worth it to get that extra layer of authenticity. Watching two French teenagers sing while dancing around a pole in the actual Disney World monorail is definitely more interesting than if it was on some made up amusement park. Oh yeah, there’s French twins dancing around poles in this. They are obviously going for a David Lynch level of absurdity which is very much appreciated. After the monorail ride, we get a few minutes of them going on the various attractions in the park. It’s actually quite remarkable how the cinematography combined with the music and black and white filter can lend an extra level of absurd creepiness to rides that are intended for children. As these scenes continue, the rides start to become more distorted which I’m guessing is supposed to represent Jim’s mental state slowly deteriorating. As much as I like this, I must admit that it ramps up a bit too fast at one point where his wife starts mocking him.
The reason I have a problem with this is that he responds to her mocking, yet when the ride ends, he’s the only one to comment saying, “Don’t you think that ride was a little weird?” His wife is confused by the question, which tells me that his responses to her were also a part of his imagination. Having THAT much of a scene be written off as a delusion kind of hurts the overall effect in my opinion. Stories about someone slowly going insane are much more effective when people around them can react to the person’s actions. When the actions are also called into question, then we can’t be sure if any scene will have consequences.
The movie continues with Jim and his son (Elliott) going to the Buzz Lightyear ride, while his wife and daughter (Emily and Sara) head for the teacups. Jim waits in line with his son for a long ass time (we’ve all been there) and when they finally get to the ride, it gets shut down for maintenance. That alone would cause anyone to have a psychotic meltdown, but Jim keeps his cool (somewhat) and leaves with his son. Elliott is disappointed and Jim is trying to salvage the situation. He asks Elliott if he wants to ride something else, but he says no… until the two French hotties show up again and get in line for one of the rides. Suddenly, the kid knows what ride he wants to go on, and Jim couldn’t be prouder.
Seriously, they just stand there checking out the girls (who are sharing bananas) before eventually getting on the ride.
It gets worse when Jim and his kid start shadowing the two, going on all the rides they go on. Elliot calls him out on it at one point and Jim desperately tries to come up with an excuse, but the kid seems pretty cool with it. We cut to his wife, who’s wondering where the hell he went off to, and his daughter who dials the preciousness up to 11.
The girls have clearly noticed him stalking them, but seem fine with it, and are basically enticing him to follow. We get a funny scene where he brings the kid on Space Mountain, and then the movie immediately cuts to the aftermath. The two French girls take their touchy-feely routine up a notch, while Jim desperately runs his kid behind a dumpster to puke his guts out.
They finally meet back up with Emily and Sara, and Emily is in a pretty bad mood. Understandable considering that his husband disappeared for an hour without answering his phone, and he returns with Elliott covered in puke. Emily wants to take them all back to the hotel, but Sara doesn’t want to leave yet, so she goes with Jim to see more of the park. They end up on some sort of jungle playground and she takes him into a cave in which they quickly get separated. Jim is trying to find her and the claustrophobia in this scene is very effective. Not only that, but Sara found her way outside the cave and was knocked down by some punk ass kid, scrapping her knee. She’s in no real danger, but that on top of the fact that Jim is lost as shit made this scene pretty tense. He eventually finds his way out, and sees her with some… thing in a neck brace who’s either the mother or father of the kid who knocked her down.
This is what makes the movie so fascinating. Other movies spend millions of dollars trying to freak you out, while these guys know how to make every day things strange in just the right way to really unsettle you.
After that, they head to a medical center where Jim spends most of the time checking out the nurse fixing her daughter’s knee. The nurse starts talking about lots of people in the park getting sick with ‘Cat Flu’ which once again is just a small thing to get you uneasy. Is this a red herring, or is this foreshadowing? The scene ends with Jim and Sara leaving the nurse’s office, and then she immediately breaking down crying for no apparent reason.
The next scene has Jim on the best ride of them all: A bench. Even better, he has a big ass turkey leg to munch on. Sara is close by playing with another kid, when a woman sits next to him and tells him he’s eating Emu instead of turkey. Then she goes on about how Sara looks like a princess, and other random shit. Jim being Jim, starts checking her out and notices her necklace. He then gets dizzy for some reason and wakes up in a hotel room fucking the woman he was talking to. She’s on top, so the necklace keeps hitting him in the face.
Jim, not knowing what the fuck is happening, tries to bolt but finds out he’s been tied to the bed. After some awkward dirty talk from our lady here, she finally finishes and unties him. She keeps talking about the Disney princesses, but Jim just wants to leave as soon as possible with his brand new burden of shame and guilt. Sara’s asleep in the next room and Jim takes her back to where the rest of his family is, which is the hotel pool. He’s chilling there for a minute before guess who shows up? The two French girls come along, strip to their bikini’s and jump in the pool, with Jim leering the entire time.
He approaches them, which doesn’t appear to be unwarranted, but his wife calls him back to scold him for not watching Elliott. The two French ladies finally find some companions who don’t appear to have two young children nearby, and leave with them.
I’ve got to say that a problem I have with this movie is that the pacing in the second act is a little lethargic. There was the scene in the beginning where Jim was clearly hallucinating, but everything sense then has been real life absurdities and creepiness. That’s not to say it’s not effective, but the movie stays at an almost constant level of weirdness, with only the occasional spike to wake us up (like the smash cut to him boning someone). It’ll definitely pick up later, but this section is pretty easy to tune out if you’re not paying too close attention to it.
After leaving the pool and changing, the family is in a gift shop and Jim is looking through a French dictionary like a dweeb.
The family goes to Epcot, and we get more scenes of them spending time together, only we can tell how strained they are at this point. It’s a good way of showing how the day has worn on them and how much has changed since the day began. We also see the family go to a German themed restaurant where Jim proceeds to get shit faced on Disney World beer against the wishes of his wife.
We follow that up with the kids getting pictures with a couple of the princesses. Jim continues to show us what a creep he is by starring right at their tits, but it becomes awkward when the people who are getting their pictures taken with them next are a bunch of groping Asian businessmen.
Jim gets his sorry ass dragged onto another ride where we finally get more hallucinations. They’re really similar to what we saw in the earlier scene, and there’s not as many because for most of the ride, Jim is puking over the side of the boat. While Jim is taking care of himself in the bathroom, his wife is with the two kids waiting outside, when the two French girls pass by, and one of their faces turn all freaky for a second.
Now this is an interesting development. It reminds me of The Shining, where the ghosts are clearly after Jack, but Wendy can occasionally pick up on their presence. It makes me wonder if Disney World has some dark force within it, and we’re not just watching a man slowly unraveling. I kind of wish that they pushed this angle a bit harder earlier in the film, but I do appreciate that they did put this in at some point.
Anyway, after an odd encounter in the bathroom with the guy in the neck brace from earlier (oh yeah, he’s a guy), Jim goes back to his family, but Emily is just as mentally exhausted as he is. They have an argument where Emily lets him know that she’s aware of him gawking at the French girls all day (duh) and Jim finally tells her that he lost his job. After this revelation, she tries to get them all back to hotel. Despite her understandable reasons for them to get the fuck out of there (one of which being that Jim is still inebriated), the movie has thirty minutes to go and they need a reason for Jim to stay. What they do is have Emily slap Sara when she starts acting like a brat for not wanting to go. Emily is now filled with guilt and agrees to let Jim take her around for a bit longer while she takes Elliott back to the hotel. I gotta say that this sort of came out of nowhere and felt a bit out of place. It felt like the writers wrote themselves into a corner and had to come up with a reason for her to not take them back, so they had her do something extreme. Anyway, Jim and Sara go on a ride which is basically an unmoving roller coaster cart in front of an IMAX screen. Naturally, Jim starts seeing a topless woman on the screen laugh at him and tell him that he’s going to be all hers.
After that, one of the French girls walks up to Sara and kisses her on the cheek. If I’m not mistaken, the Disney Princesses will do that kind of thing, so maybe they’re drawing a parallel between the two girls and Princesses. I honestly don’t know. In fact, let’s talk about that for a second. I’ve described a hell of a lot of weird things in this movie, but do any of them have a connecting theme? Granted, the movie does each of these scenes with impeccable film making panache, but at no point do I get a solid through line here besides weird shit is happening and it probably has something to do with him being stressed about getting fired.
Anyway, the three of them go inside the Epcot ball which breaks off its foundation and starts rolling around, killing lots of tourists. Then a nuclear explosion goes off for some reason.
Oh no wait. It was just Jim’s imagination for some reason. Why? Why the hell was he thinking about that? Was the ghost of Uncle Walt putting ideas into his head?
I’m not sure where reality ended and his fantasy began, but the French girl comes back up to them (or comes up to them for the first time) and asks him to come with her. Jim, for the first time doing the right thing, rejects the offer even though she’s talking very cryptically about something bad happening if he doesn’t. She apologies to him, and before he has a chance to find out why she spits in his face in a glorious bit of slow-mo.
After she walks away, the dumb ass realizes that Sara has disappeared and desperately searches for her. While doing so, two employees wearing 50’s space outfits grab him and taser him in the balls. Seriously.
This is when things start to get strange. I know. Remember when I was talking about a lack of ramp up in the strange department? Well forget about all that, because after the Intermission (seriously) we return to see Jim has been strapped to a chair in what appears to be the center of the Epcot ball. And for some reason, there are pictures of topless ladies plastered on a few of the walls. Then a scientist starts vaguely monologuing about nothing in particular, with Jim just as confused as the rest of us. The doc hits a switch and an Epcot ball starts forming around his head. Jim asks “You work for Disney?” but the word Disney is bleeped out which I find hilarious. The doc keeps talking and none of it makes any sense. It’s even harder to figure out considering how thick and/or fake his accent is.
So the Scientist seems to be part of some group working within Disney World that has gone undetected. The only ones who are aware of them are the French girls for some reason. The Scientist works for the SEIMENS Corporation which in real life is the current sponsors of the giant fucking Epcot ball thingy. Apparently Epcot’s true purpose is something mischievous, even though he doesn’t actually say what the fuck it is. We start seeing someone on the monitors who is supposed to be the REAL Jim, but it’s never explained what the fuck that means. It ALSO turns out that Jim’s boss is in on this because in the phone call, he apparently told Jim to take his son to a certain place, but it turns out that didn’t happen.
It’s not explained WHY they needed the kid there, or what the consequences were for him NOT being there, but the scientist seems to have something else planned and leaves Jim alone in the room. Still tied up, Jim is barely able to reach in his pocket and pull out a tube of Neosporin, which he starts spraying all over the controls and the walls. In case the joke doesn’t get across, he starts spraying a white liquid all over control panels labeled SEIMENS and over pictures of mostly naked women.
He gets the machines to malfunction, which releases his bonds and he waits for the scientist to return. When the guy gets back, Jim gets the sliding doors to close on his head, cutting it off at the neck. It turns out that the scientist was a robot the entire time! Before his last sputter, he says that he was trying to help Jim which TOTALLY makes sense. No it doesn’t.
Anyway, after he escapes he starts searching for her daughter again. He gets the idea that it might be the woman he was banging earlier, so he goes to her hotel room and finds quite a disturbing scene. Her son is dressed up as a princess, and the mother is dressed like a dollar store version of Maleficent.
Sara is in the bedroom, dressed as Sleeping Beauty, and laying on a bed covered in flowers. The kid is fine, but Jim is rightfully furious. The woman stops him from leaving by asking him if he’s ever seen someone decapitated. Despite the fact that he just saw a robot lose its head, he instead flashes back to the very first scene where the guy got decapitated on the roller coaster (No idea why. I’m guessing it’s his dad, but who knows). The woman then starts talking about how she used to work at the park as a Princess and how she one day hurt a child by hugging her too hard. I don’t see how this story connects to anything else in the film, but it’s shot beautifully with the background being a constantly moving first person view of the park.
Sara breaks the necklace which leaves the woman distraught, and Jim gets the hell out of there. He finally makes it back to his hotel room and puts Sara to sleep. It appears that the long day is finally over. He’ been through a lot, but now can finally go home. He only has one more challenge to face. He’s got to take a massive shit and puke up hair balls.
As it turns out, this is a call back to the scene earlier where the nurse warned him about ‘Cat Flu’ and then the French Girl spit in his face, who was presumably a carrier. This seems to be a challenge that Jim is unable to conquer because the next morning, his wife finds him in the bathroom; dead with a creepy ass smile no his face.
Some Disney goons show up in the apartment and one of them puts his hand on Elliot’s head. We see images of the Buzz Lightyear ride, so I can only assume that this guy has the power of inception and put memories in the kids head. With his family grief-stricken, the goons clean up the bathroom and then carry off Jim’s body to who the fuck knows where while being intercut with footage of other people enjoying the theme park. As Jim’s body is loaded and sent off in an unmarked van, a car pulls up containing the topless lady from the IMAX ride, the guy in the monitors from the Scientist scene, and two kids who I don’t think were in the movie previously. The movie ends with a pan upwards of the hotel, the two French girls dressed as Tinkerbelle flying at the screen, and then the words “The End” appearing.
This movie is amazing. I would put it up there with any of Lynch’s work when it comes to surreal and bizarre films. The craftsmanship on display here is nothing short of magnificent. Considering the conditions that this movie was made under, it’s insane how good some of these shots are, and how well they were able to capture a specific tone where everything is just off kilter enough for you to notice. That being said, I feel that despite it intentionally being obtuse and impenetrable like a lot of surrealistic films, this movie is still hurt by its story. My problem is that it actually tries to explain itself at points, but these scenes are intentionally designed to jerk you around and not actually tell us anything useful. The worst example is the scene with the scientist where he just starts talking about certain things without ever telling us why they are that way. The French girls knew what you were up to? Something was supposed to happen with Elliott? This isn’t the real Jim? Look at something like Eraserhead. You can say that’s its story is just as confusing and unexplained as this movie, but there aren’t scenes where it tries to tell you what is going on. There’s a girl in the radiator. They don’t allude to what it actually means in frustratingly vague ways. It’s just something in the movie. If Escape from Tomorrow WANTED this movie to circle back into a cohesive storyline in some way, then I feel they dropped the ball. Maybe someone else could tell you what this is actually about, but I just found it confusing and anachronistic. That’s another thing! There’s all this techno horror thrown in when it comes to the scientist, but how does that relate to the hallucinations that Jim was seeing? Why was Emily able to see a creepy face on one of the French girls? Is there something sinister in the park, or is it just the German robot fucking with people? How does any of that relate to the crazy lady? In Eraserhead there wasn’t a scene where a guy in a lab coat abducted Henry and alluded that he might have given him Space Acid or whatever.
I know I sound like I’m bitching about this movie, but it really is a marvelous film. I loved the way it looked, the individual ideas within it, and the authenticity of the locations. Aside from some story problems, and some slow sections, it’s definitely worth checking out. You don’t see a lot of movies that are willing to take this many risks, and it’s refreshing to find a movie with a touch of insanity that can’t be found in Hollywood films. Go watch it! RIGHT NOW!!