Film Review: Escape From TomorrowReportedly shot guerrilla-style at the Mouse House’s Orlando amusement park, this strange tale of a family enduring a hallucinatory day at Disneyworld offers up only half-baked surrealism and incoherent entertainment-industry critique.
Hell is Disneyworld in Escape from Tomorrow, a black-and-white drama reportedly filmed covertly and without consent at the popular Orlando, Florida amusement park. Randy Moore’s film opens with shots of a rollercoaster emerging from a dark tunnel into light, yet no such enlightenment or clarity awaits Jim (Roy Abramsohn), a husband and father of two who’s shortly thereafter introduced on a hotel balcony, where he learns via cell-phone that he’s been fired from his job. That his son Elliot (Jack Dalton) then locks him out of the room is a fittingly ominous start for the rest of Jim’s day at Disneyworld, which is marked by Elliot demanding to go on the Buzz Lightyear ride and his wife Emily (Elena Schuber) incessantly harping at him for being an inconsiderate and distracted boob. Emily comes across as an insufferable nag, but also a woman with good cause to be annoyed at her spouse, as Jim soon decides that his time is best spent stalking two young French girls whose swaying hips, giggling mouths and playful physical interaction with each other proves a far more alluring attraction than Space Mountain or the carousel.
That sort of deviant sexuality soon engulfs Escape from Tomorrow, as Jim’s every move resonates with carnal implications, be it his overt gawking at a nurse’s (Amy Lucas) cleavage and behind, the numerous fountains that erupt at key moments, or a late gag involving a squirting tube of Neosporin. Actual sex also takes place, between Jim and a strange woman (Alison Lees-Taylor) who may or may not be an actual witch intent on hypnotizing Jim with her enormous, shiny amulet necklace. Alas, director Moore never makes any solid link between Jim’s hallucinatory erotic fantasies and Disneyworld itself. It’s never clear how, or why, the park—or the Disney brand—brings out or amplifies Jim’s urges, and thus the film often comes across as only partially thought out, and its Disneyland setting chosen not for any cogent thematic reason but, instead, simply because it’s an incongruous locale for a tale of mounting madness.
While it’s also laced with undercurrents of pedophilia and child abuse, Escape from Tomorrow has nothing to say about its milieu’s relationship to either its young or mature patrons. The result is a story whose surrealism feels unmoored to any larger point—an issue that’s exacerbated by the fact that such craziness (as with Jim’s recurring encounters with a wheelchair-bound Southerner in a neck brace) rarely comes close to being amusing. Undermined by lead performances defined by amateurish line readings and overcooked expressions (save for one pitch-perfect reaction shot of Jim recoiling in disgust at old men coughing), the film never generates any comic momentum. The further it goes along and set-pieces involving puking and defecation pile up, the more the proceedings feel desperate to shock through extreme crassness. Whereas its juxtapositions between sunshiny Disney cheer and Jim’s twisted impulses should provide moments of both media-entertainment-critique wittiness and darker, suspenseful weirdness, Moore’s script finally delivers only strangeness that—eventually involving nude tropical beauties, decapitated robots and princess prostitutes—feels not just strained, but incoherent.