Witnessing a man’s descent into madness would be terrifying enough. Seeing it play out within the plastic confines of Walt Disney World is an absolute nightmare. If for some reason you haven’t heard about it by now, Escape From Tomorrow is the audacious directorial debut from Randy Moore, shot almost entirely on location in Disney World – without permission. The fact that him and his crew covertly pulled it off under these conditions is something to be applauded. The stones on these guys, huh? Luckily, their ingenious guerrilla film is pretty damn good too.
It’s also hard to describe. Set on the final day of the White family’s Disney vacation, Escape From Tomorrow focuses on their patriarch, Jim (Roy Abramson), and his slippery grip on reality. Man, is he having a rough day. In the morning he’s fired from his job and his bratty son locks him out on the hotel balcony. He keeps his termination a secret from his wife Emily (Elena Schuber – who looks remarkably like Linda Hamilton) while they head out for the last day in the park with the kids, Elliot and Sara. They hit up the familiar rides, including It’s a Small World, which is where Jim starts to become truly unhinged.
Did the little animatronic characters just snarl at him? Did his wife really just say she hated him? Why do Elliot’s eyes look like the abyss?!
Disney and its denizens quickly begin to tear Jim’s psyche apart. He repeatedly encounters a menacing obese man in a wheelchair who cackles at his misfortune. A park nurse warns him of a lethal virus going around. A mysterious woman lures him into her “presidential suite.” And then there’s the two pieces of Parisian jailbait that Jim stalks through the park. They’re sorta like harbingers of doom that completely entrance him in a very uncomfortable manner. Keep it in your pants, Jim.
As these bizarre characters torment him, Disney iconography swirls in the background. Obvious green screen is used for the scenes that weren’t filmed in the park. These shots sometimes disturb the visual flow of the production, which overall has an untidy feel to it. Considering the guerrilla-style filming though, you gotta cut them some slack. The acting is great – especially from the kids, surprisingly – and Roy Abramson hams it up enough to give Escape From Tomorrow a B-movie vibe, which is totally appropriate here. The filmmakers may have been taking on Disney, but they don’t take it too seriously.
There’s an obvious subtext that the aggressive friendliness of Disney and the glossy illusion it presents are enough to drive anyone crazy. Besides one haphazardly bleeped out moment, “Disney” is never spoken aloud. They do go right for the throat of the Siemens Corporation – a technology innovator that sponsors Epcot. How powerful corporations like Disney and Siemens can defile a human being is one thing the film certainly drives home. And Moore had the balls to shoot right on their turf.
By doing so, Escape From Tomorrow acts as one giant middle finger to corporate oppression. The most upsetting moment is saved for the final minutes of the film, which I won’t spoil here. It’s a shocking image that’s also one of the most effective horror moments I’ve seen this year. The whole final 20 minutes are a carousel of terror in which the lines of reality and imagination are completely blurred. Whether all of the pieces and characters we’ve seen totally add up doesn’t matter. What matters is that Moore, his crew, and the actors made this goddamn movie and by some unholy miracle, it’s being released. This one’s got cult status written all over it.
Escape From Tomorrow hits theaters, VOD, and iTunes October 11.