As a first time filmmaker, there are many ways to get your film noticed. However, writer/director Randy Moore certainly deserves bonus points for creativity on how he was able to get attention for Escape From Tomorrow. The director assembled a small crew, armed his actors with hidden microphones, gave his cameramen prosumer cameras that tourists might have, and shot a film in Disney World without permission. Yes, you read that right, Escape From Tomorrow is a film that takes place in Disney World and was somehow shot without the house of mouse realizing their theme park was the setting for an arty directorial debut. As you’d expect, the production stunt tops the actual film, but it’s still a fascinating nightmare vision of a horrendous family vacation shot in a manner guaranteed to never be achieved again. This is ballsy renegade filmmaking that could only happen in the digital age and as technology improves and becomes more accessible, it’ll be interesting to see where things go next.
The film opens with a sadsack middle aged father (Roy Abramsohn) kicking off the last day of his Disney World vacation by being fired over the phone and then having his son lock him out on the hotel balcony as a hilarious prank. So, bad start to the day. It gets worse. As Abramsohn wanders around the park he’s constantly belittled by his wife (Elena Schuber) and mocked by his kids (Jack Dalton and Katelynn Rodriguez). He also stars to experience mild hallucinations. While suffering through “It’s A Small World” (shudder…) the puppets’ faces start to bend and contort. As the day wears on, this starts happening more and more. Things start to get stranger. He becomes obsessed with a pair of French teenagers, an undeniably creepy middle age woman tries to seduce him, and he keeps hearing about some new form of “cat flu.” What starts as simply a bad day at the theme park gradually mutates into a full on hallucinogenic nightmare.
Like most first time filmmakers, Randy Moore wears is his influences openly. This is a director clearly in love with pop surrealists like David Lynch and he makes no attempt to hide that fact. His film starts out fairly naturalistically, merely following his central family around the Disney World on a crappy day. It’s cringe-worthy in its accuracy of a family vacation gone wrong and at times painful to watch. Some might find this section a bit trying on the patience and lacking pay off, but for anyone who ever experienced the horrors of a bad family trip, it’s chillingly accurate. The central actors playing the family are fantastic, which is crucial to the success of the film. Given the subject and style of shooting, if you didn’t buy them as an actual family, the whole thing would fall apart. Thankfully, all of them are impressive, with Roy Abramsohn in particular providing a character so pathetic that you just want to give him a hug and tell him everything will be okay.
When the nightmare images start, they work quite well. Impressive low key CGI is used to distort tourist faces and Disney World landmarks into chilling images straight out of J-horror. The hallucinations match the queasy, nauseous nature of the day quite well, transforming a failed vacation into a genuine nightmare. As Moore continues down this path, things get a little sketchy. The director seems to want to make a film about a man with no control over his life, starting with a domineering wife, segueing into a rigidly controlled day at a theme park, and then gradually bringing in either an extraterrestrial corporation or fantasy illness to take final control. The ideas are clever, but the presentation starts to feel increasingly like a student film as Escape From Tomorrow reaches the climax. Moore is clearly a talented director, but surrealism is difficult to write clearly and effectively and he’s not quite there yet. Still the images are continuously impressive, and when Epcot Center turns out to be a home to a secret evil and the big Epcot ball explodes, you’ll be blown away by the fact that a group of first time filmmakers not only had the audacity to attempt those scenes, but also had the technical expertise to pull them off.
It’s pretty mind-boggling that Moore and co. were able to make Escape From Tomorrow and even more insane that the typically litigious Disney corporation allowed the film to be released. My guess is that either they were so impressed by the fact someone made a movie in their park without anyone noticing that they just let it go. Or they figured the movie would never make enough money to be worth pursuing a piece of. The truth is probably lies somewhere between the two theories. Either way, Escape From Tomorrow is certainly a film worth seeing simply because of the unique nature of the production, even if the content doesn’t quite live up to the sales pitch. It’s still a very intriguing debut filled with striking images and impressive performances. Randy Moore is definitely a filmmaker to watch and while he might lose the thread on this script a bit towards the end, he can be forgiven simply because the logistics of nailing this shoot probably took up a great deal of his creative energy. It’s safe to say this is the only secret Disney World movie that will ever exist so even if Moore never makes another movie, he’s already in the history books. As a debut filmmaker, you can’t really ask for more than that. Let’s just hope the guy never wants to work for Disney, because that won’t be happening anytime soon.