The last time a filmmaker tried something like what writer-director Randy Moore did here was back in 2002, when filmmaker Damon Packard smuggled a video camera onto Universal Studios’ E.T. ride for a portion of his film REFLECTIONS OF EVIL. 2013’s ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW took that conceit even farther, with nearly the entire movie filmed on-the-fly at Walt Disney World. Surprisingly enough Moore wasn’t sued, and ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW was widely exhibited—and acclaimed—on the indie film circuit, with Disney’s honchos choosing to ignore the film.
On the final day of a trip to Walt Disney World the devoted family man Jim learns he’s been fired from his job. He neglects to inform his wife Emma and two children of the bad news, wanting to have one last good day in the park.
This, it turns out, was the wrong decision, as Jim’s depressed mindset combined with the cartoonish surreality of the park causes macabre hallucinations. Jim also becomes obsessed by a pair of seductive French girls he follows around the park with his son Elliot in tow, making sure to go on all the same rides as the girls—even Space Mountain, which freaks out Elliot mightily.
Jim’s moodiness upsets Emma, who heads back to the hotel with Elliot. This leaves Jim to traverse the park with his daughter Sarah. She’s promptly injured by the bratty son of a scooter-bound old woman, occasioning a trip to a doctor’s office. Worse, Jim is tempted by a leggy brunette with a suspicious ruby necklace.
Then there are the French babes, who appear in skimpy bikinis to distract Jim in the hotel swimming pool. The old lady in the scooter and her son turn up later in the afternoon at the adjoining Epcot Center, inflaming Jim’s paranoia—which comes to infect Emma, who begins experiencing her own hallucinations.
Speaking of which, Jim has his own final hallucination involving a creepy guy in a laboratory, an evil witch and a malignant flu virus…and the movie pretty much turns to shit.
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW is marked by strikingly noirish black-and-white photography that transforms Disney World’s smiling cartoon characters into leering demons, and also high spirited Disney-esque music that nicely counterpoints the horror of the proceedings. Intentionally tacky rear projection is another frequently utilized conceit, done to delineate reality and hallucination. For roughly the first hour it all works, helped immeasurably by Roy Abramsohn’s committed lead performance.
The conceit of surreptitiously filming at Walt Disney World may be a gimmick, but it’s what gives this film its effectiveness. Without the documentary overlay of amusement park rides, cartoony décor and actual crowds the film wouldn’t work at all, as is evident in the scenes that take place outside the park, which lack the spark of those set within.
Here I’m referring specifically to the science fictionish final third, wherein director Randy Moore was seemingly trying for a DONNIE DARKO effect. These scenes, involving a B-movieish laboratory and an evil princess, are actually less surreal than the amusement park set footage, a potent reminder that reality truly is stranger than fiction.
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW
Mankurt Media Inc.
Director: Randy Moore
Producer: Soojin Chung
Screenplay: Randy Moore
Cinematography: Lucas Lee Graham
Editing: Soojin Chung
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady, Annet Mathendru, Lee Armstrong, Kimberly Jindra, Trey Loney, Amy Lucas, Alison Lees-Taylor, Jakob Salvati