Writer-director Randy Moore’s film Escape from Tomorrow has received far more attention for its unusual production than for its content. Shot illegally in the Disneyland and Disneyworld parks, the darkly comic thriller required clandestine measures like small, tourist-style cameras, scripts on iPhones, and shots planned around the sun’s position.
The reviews, however, have been mixed; IMDB.com ranks it a measly 5.4 user average. Some critics declared it worth seeing based mainly on its extraordinary filming as opposed to its merit.
Like many others, I was compelled by Escape’s behind the scenes story and was determined to see it. Though it can be uneven and dragged down by some deficiencies in casting and production value (more on that later), it’s a remarkably well shot and compelling movie with some very unique ideas.
I was particularly impressed by the film’s sense of humor, which produces a number of laugh out loud moments. This can be attributed to both the sharp dialogue and an absolutely fantastic lead performance by Roy Abramsohn. As average dad Jim, Abramsohn has to balance a spectrum of emotions from frustration to confusion, terror, lust, and drunken bravado. He does it all with realism and crack comic timing, and he has an immensely likable quality that keeps you rooting for him despite some serious character flaws, namely his obsession with two underage French girls, which leads him to force his son Elliot onto Space Mountain. In a hysterical montage, the girls are seen frolicking off the ride, and then contrasted with Jim leading Elliot to the nearest trash can so he can vomit. His wife Emily (Elena Schuber) is not amused, and in fact she is relentlessly unforgiving, refusing to kiss him on It’s a Small World “in front of the kids” and generally criticizing and questioning his every move. This harsh treatment is on top of Jim’s having been fired from his job over the phone, which he decides to keep to himself, and experiencing a series of nightmarish visions. It’s no wonder he loses himself in romantic fantasies about pretty young girls. He’s also seduced by an enigmatic single mom, played to perfection by Alison-Lees Taylor, who drops hints about the park’s darker secrets and becomes significant in the escalating goings-on.
Jim’s first encounter with this Other Woman is distractingly green screened, as are a number of scenes. Though clearly a necessity in some cases, it’s too bad these moments take us out of the narrative. Moore’s saving grace is that Escape From Tomorrow has a dream-like quality that can explain away such unrealistic moments. It’s exquisitely shot, with the crisp black and white photography obscuring the movie’s scrappy production and enhancing the sinister mood of the parks. CGI transforms numerous attraction inhabitants into leering gargoyles, but even without such tricks Escape brings out the rides’ inherent creepiness.
The only other major deficiency is Schuber’s unsubtle performance, which can’t hold a candle to Abramsohn’s. Moore is again helped by the story, which mostly requires her to be broadly shrewish; a more nuanced performance, however, would have made the film that much more involving and emotionally brutal. The actors playing the couple’s kids (Jack Dalton and Danielle Safady) are better, with none of the amateurish, actor-ly mannerisms that plague other screen depictions of children. Dalton is particularly good, as Elliot manages to connect with and bedevil his father at several points in the story.
I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that some aspects are distractingly over the top, and many viewers won’t like the ambiguous elements or the loose ends left untied. But as an original horror conception and a pitch black commentary on one of America’s most dominant and endearing institutions, Escape from Tomorrow is well worth a watch.
Escape From Tomorrow is now streaming on Netflix instant and available on DVD.
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