Escape from Tomorrow (2013) / Drama-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for sexuality, some nudity, language and violent content
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Alison Lees-Taylor, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru, Lee Armstrong
Director: Randy Moore
Screenplay: Randy Moore
Review published October 17, 2013
Roy Abrahmsohn ("Weeds", Creepshow 3) stars as Jim, who travels to Disneyworld with his wife Emily (Schuber, Driving to Zigzagland) and his two kids shortly after learning that he has lost his job. As the family traverses the fun amusement park, Jim encounters two French teenage girls and soon develops an infatuation with them, watching them around corners and following them around the park with kids in tow. As the day proceeds, the more Jim begins to feel an overwhelming sense of paranoia and increasingly vivid hallucinations (or are they?), as something is not quite right -- is it a psychotic breakdown, or are there other-worldly elements in play?
The main attraction to Escape from Tomorrow is that it had been shot, guerrilla-style in Disneyworld and Disneyland without the permission, knowledge, or blessing of Disney Corporation, though the normally image-protective company has decided not to pursue litigation (perhaps not to draw unnecessary hype for something that paints them in a less-than-flattering light). The film, written and directed by first-timer Randy Moore, is shot on a shoestring budget in black-and-white, ostensibly to save on color-processing and color-matching costs, using semi-professional quality SLR cameras so as to not alert the suspicion of the security team at Disney. There are a few scenes interspersed in which the actors play green-screened in front of a still image, but due to the B&W photography, it's not so noticeable as to break the film's visual style in any way.
The main problem with Escape from Tomorrow lies in its weak story, which feels like a mix of an unfunny entry in National Lampoon's Vacation series, if there were one directed by David Lynch, and an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone", but without the heady irony. As we get to know more about doughy slob Jim, the less we like him, as he's fairly quick to enter into adulterous affairs, and is especially fond of girls who look like they are barely pubescent. He's not only a pervert, a drunk, and a wanna-be cheater, but he's a perpetual liar, and even if his nagging wife seems to no longer have a romantic spark in her for the man she married, we can easily understand why. Spending a day with each other must not be very much fun for either of them, so why should we in the audience think it any more fun to do so as well?
It also runs a bit on the dull side for long portions at a time, with its many lulls showing little more than the main characters on one ride or another, with sometimes no effort to push the story forward any further than it had been in the prior scene. Admittedly, much of this is due to budgetary limitations, as well as having to shoot many of the scenes on the go, and in a great hurry, so as not to arouse the suspicions of those around them. Nevertheless, it is shot well, all things considered, and there are even some modest special effects shots thrown in that aren't half bad considering what they have to work with. Along with the quality score from Abel Korzeniowski (W.E., A Single Man), it feels like a respectable indie film effort and not a cheapie found-footage movie or, worse, someone's attempt at a clever home video project. And yet, the finished film plays smaller than its aspirations, which still gives it a low-rent feel in the end.
A film about how they made Escape from Tomorrow would likely be more interesting than the narrative that plays within, as it is a ballsy move that should at least garner a modicum of respect for actually resulting in a relatively coherent product. As a story, it's lackluster and unappealing, and yet it is fascinating to see what can be done within the confines of an amusement park without anyone knowing that a film is being made right in front of their eyes. The tone of the film is progressively surreal, but there's no real pot of gold at the end of this wacked-out rainbow to make it worth delving into.
However, even if the story isn't much worth recommending, as a showcase for the talent of Moore as a quality director, Escape from Tomorrow definitely should garner attention by the studios looking for someone who can do a lot with little resources. But outside of the interesting details regarding its making, and some talented creators behind the scenes, it's a sluggish and unrewarding watch when taken on its own terms. Knowing Disney saw the final product and decided it was lame enough to not warrant any of their further attention, it follows that neither should we.
©2013 Vince Leo