You could say that Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow is a gimmick first and a movie second, but that would be missing the point. Yes, shot clandestinely on a shoestring in real Disney theme parks, Moore’s odd little thriller is a great example of a filmmaker using digital technology to evade and subvert the corporate powers-that-be. And the novel concept behind the film’s production allows us to look past some of its rougher spots: occasionally unfortunate edits, shifting focus, some not-so-hot performances captured in less-than-optimal takes. C’mon, it’s a movie made up almost entirely of stolen shots! What did you expect, Kubrickian exactitude?
But Escape From Tomorrow is a pretty nutty film in its own regard, a borderline-experimental miasma of sexual neuroses, macho angst, regressive frenzy, and fevered paranoia. It opens on Jim (Roy Abramsohn), shirtless in an Orlando hotel room, being informed over the phone that he’s lost his job. Still, it’s the last day of his family trip to Disney World, and Jim is determined not to let his professional crisis get in the way of a fun time with his wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), and two kids. But not so fast. He and his wife are bickering before they even leave the hotel, and once at the park, Jim begins to see and imagine things that start to perturb him: Bystanders and Disney figures alike seem to briefly turn into ghouls. A pair of underage French girls attract his attentions a bit too much. Along the way, he has a run-in with a fat redneck on a mobility scooter and is also seduced by a strange woman who may or may not also be a creepy child-kidnapper. Somehow, the Siemens corporation and an evil scientist might be involved. Or did he dream that part? Oh, and what’s this cat flu everybody keeps talking about?
Mixing a variety of styles and genres and even music cues from different films, Escape From Tomorrow is the cinematic equivalent of carnival belly. But there’s purpose to all this neurotic, psychosexual chaos. It unfolds with the stream-of-consciousness quality of a psych session. Jim is not a likable guy, but at times you feel for the way he’s lost his moorings. The French girls he starts following around the park — one of them has braces, for crying out loud — seem to be the film’s way of asking what happens if the welcome regression of a Disney theme park is accompanied by an unwelcome regression to sexual adolescence as well. And what if we took all of Disney’s grandiose claims about the power of imagination to their logical next step and actually started harvesting it from people?
This could all get very tiresome very quickly, but luckily, Moore has a light touch with this material. The torments endured by his lead character, even though they’re often gruesome, even violent, are more in the campy, late-night-movie vein than in the visionary-thriller vein. It’s all skin-deep, a grand cosmic joke. For all the horror on display, you can basically laugh it off. There’s probably more depth in any five minutes of Disney’s own Pinocchio than there is in Escape From Tomorrow. But Moore’s film is a twisted, entertaining little lark, not to mention a vital bit of anti-corporate satire. It’ll make a fine midnight movie one day.