Escape From Tomorrow (2013)
Directed by Randy Moore
The opening credits for Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow work as a metaphor for the entire movie. It’s an innocuous ride on one of Disney World’s rollercoasters that invokes a sense of familiarity. Most of us have been, if not to Disney World, then to some kind of amusement park at some point in our lives, and so the sights and sounds are immediately familiar. Then a seemingly impossibly accident occurs, and our perception is forever altered. It not only gets our attention, but also starts us wondering.
The film begins with Jim (Roy Abramsohn), his wife Emily (Elena Schuber), and their kids (Jack Dalton and Katelynn Rodriguez) at the end of their vacation and ready to spend a final day taking in the sights and sounds of Disney World. Before Jim can get out the door, he takes a call from his employer and receives some bad news: He’s just lost his job. Keeping it a secret from his family, their day becomes wrought with frustration that soon turns to... something more. Soon, the veneer of manufactured theme park happiness slips away, revealing a hallucinatory world of sordid fantasies and sinister motivations.
Disney World is more than just a gimmicky backdrop for Escape From Tomorrow. Its presence is both oppressive and devious as it lords over the main character, his unfettered sexual frustrations and familial misery mounting against an increasingly disgusted wife and children who are treated more as obstacles that prevent his fantasies from becoming anything more. Ostensibly, it’s a harmless and unobtrusive environment, but Jim suddenly finds sexuality in everything. He stalks two carefree teenage girls from ride-to-ride with his children in tow, declares the Epcot Center’s resemblance to a gigantic testicle and fantasizes about Disney princesses serving as high priced whores for wealthy Japanese businessmen. And when Jim isn’t living out repressed sexual fantasies in his head, he’s coping with the horror of it all: demonic faces, belligerent tourists and even a device designed to remove your imagination.
There’s free-form insanity to these proceedings, and it probably goes without saying that Escape From Tomorrow is a very bizarre film. It’s a challenge to ascribe meaning to everything that Moore puts in his film (at least after one viewing), but the basic sense of what he’s trying to do is hard to miss. In some respects this is another “middle age man has a midlife crisis” movie, but to dismiss it as that entirely would be a mistake. There are other possibilities for what’s happening that are a lot more conspiratorial and fun, but it’s never explicitly stated, which means fans of this film will be debating it for years to come.
Meanwhile, the black and white cinematography creates a “golden age” look and feel—a tool that juxtaposes the surface normalcy of this seemingly average family with the festering dysfunction lurking beneath. It makes for visuals that are both beautiful and creepy while heightening the atmosphere to something pervasive.
If there’s anything about Escape From Tomorrow that doesn’t work, it’s the sporadic pacing and the uneven acting. The earliest scenes meander, and they will undoubtedly try the patience of some viewers. Likewise, the performances are a bit inconsistent. Abramsohn is hit or miss as the everyman father seething with dark desires and a lifetime of regrets, while Schuber has a lot less to work with in the role of his wife. She runs the gamut of pitch-perfect to occasionally leaden, but in the end Moore gets authentic performances out of them, and it’s to their credit that this film works as well as it does.
While watching Escape From Tomorrow, it’s easy to wonder how writer/director Randy Moore was able to shoot a low-budget surrealist horror film inside America’s most beloved tourist attraction. The short answer is that he wasn’t. Yes, a good chunk of it was filmed on location in both Florida’s Disney World and California’s Disneyland (with some scenes shot on green screen), but it was done without the attention or approval of Disney. Moore and his crew used cameras that made them look like tourists, while the cast and crew carried the script around on their iPhones. Moore was so afraid that Disney would find out what he’d done and stop his film from being seen that he fled the country in order to edit it.
Escape From Tomorrow isn’t for everyone, but there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s a surreal horror fantasy that sets a malfunctioning man’s sexual dissatisfaction against the backdrop of American Dream iconography, and it’s awkward, funny, unsettling and resonating. Not the kind of ride you’ll forget anytime soon.
3 1/2 out of 5