Director: Randy Moore
Writer: Randy Moore
Producer: Soojin Chung, Gioia Marchese
Stars: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru, Jack Dalton, Alison Lees-Taylor, Lee Armstrong, Amy Lucas, Stass Klassen
A family vacation at Walt Disney World twists into a surreal nightmare for a middle-aged man on the brink of sanity.
“Escape from Tomorrow” is otherwise known as “that movie that was shot clandestinely at Disneyland and Disney World.” Having your movie recognized and talked about as a first time feature director is a herculean feat no matter what, and many independent filmmakers would sell their first born for even the briefest blurb of press coverage. For Randy Moore, it is a double-edged sword. For all the talking that has been done about “Escape from Tomorrow,” the bulk of it is squarely focused on the question of how his cast and crew was able to elude the prying eyes of Disney security and what it was like to be a guerrilla film team inside the Happiest Place on Earth. Addressing the questions of what the movie is about and if it is worth tracking down seem to pale in comparison almost as afterthoughts.
In addition to corporate authority, “Escape from Tomorrow” challenges traditional genre classification. The film circled the festival rounds billed as a Fantasy-Horror hybrid. Those elements are included, although such terms elicit expectations that are not fully satisfied by what the movie really offers. Any explanation of the film works better with the word “comical” as a descriptor. The dark humor is deliberately subdued, yet ever present, accenting the surreal fantasy with a more Terry Gilliam tone than Franz Kafka.
Partially redeeming himself for his previous genre appearance in “Creepshow 3,” Roy Abramsohn aptly embodies a typical middle-aged father in a two-button Polo shirt and a $10 SuperCut as average Everyman Jim White. “Escape from Tomorrow” is the story of Jim’s terrible timing by having a mental meltdown during the final day of his family’s Florida vacation. Jim’s mind is already spinning from the news that he will be returning home as an unemployed husband/father. With little son Elliot in his ear about “Buzz Lightyear” and wife Emily nagging him about sunscreen for daughter Sara when he would rather be ogling two French teenagers, Disney fantasy blurs with twisted imagery until Jim’s imagination fractures from the persistent strain.
Given the young age of writer/director Randy Moore, one of the most striking aspects of his film is how perfectly he illustrates a stereotypical suburban family with a subtlety that keeps their depictions humorous without devolving into wild caricatures. Forced to guess, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the filmmaker must have experienced a midlife crisis before, judging by how well captured such moments are.
Parents and children alike who have ever spent any time in a theme park can empathize from either side while watching Jim’s pained face bear the fatherly frustration that comes with long lines in the hot sun when living your adult life for your children’s benefit. Delivery of lines like, “you gotta be f---ing kidding me” when Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters breaks down are both heartbreaking and hilarious. And when Jim soaks in the sights of Annet Mahendru, familiar as Russian double agent Nina on TV’s “The Americans,” and Danielle Safady in short shorts, it is less about a dirty old man having lewd fantasies and more about painting the portrait of a man desperate to indulge in a necessary distraction.
Signs of sloppiness do twirl about the periphery on the technical front. Even in black and white, the green screens are obvious and the camera used for filming has issues translating stability and sharpness. At the same time, the devotion to filmmaking as a craft is just as evident. Despite the guerrilla style, there is more care in the cinematography than simply pointing, shooting, and following the players around the park. “Escape from Tomorrow” has a plan in mind to tell its story. Scenes are shot from multiple angles and setups are created before the actors enter frame. This is a carefully considered and well thought out production.
That attention to detail extends to the Disney flair that, like everything else about the film, is only as overt as it needs to be. The music deserves special recognition for emulating the mood of Disney-esque tunes as well as the sound. The soundtrack also brilliantly creates a replacement track that is almost as perfectly annoying as the actual “It’s a Small World” song. Hallmark Disney attractions are on display, but there is no attitude of “look at what we got away with” about it. Jabs at the House of Mouse are not as scathing as some reports have led audiences to believe. They range from playful perpetuation of the urban myth that food cart turkey legs are made from emus to the depiction of a Disney Death Team tasked with extracting bodies and sterilizing gore that might break their patented theme park illusions. In regard to the latter, “Escape from Tomorrow” often feels more like a parody of “Westworld” than of the Disney corporation.
There is a rough David Lynch style to the film, meaning that the director has an artistic vision in mind, even though it is not necessarily clear to the viewer what that vision is. Ask five people to identify the core theme of the movie and the result is likely to be five different answers. Randy Moore may even be purposefully letting audiences draw their own interpretations. But even if his film does not have a real point or a purpose, it is still hypnotically engaging as experimental art and as oddball entertainment.
Review Score: 70