Review: 'Escape from Tomorrow' Is More Interesting Than Entertaining

Escape from Tomorrow

From the moment writer/director Randy Moore revealed the existence of Escape from Tomorrow -- and the surprising fact that he'd somehow managed to shoot the movie inside Disney World without permission from the park -- film fans with a fondness for the off-kilter have been eager for a chance to see it (and resigned to the movie being sued out of existence). Now that the moment's finally arrived, alas, we must admit that in this case, the behind-the-scenes truth is stranger -- or at least more compelling -- than the fiction.

Tomorrow's story skitters and jumps too much to reliably summarize, but in a very loose nutshell, it follows the misadventures of one middle-class family during a day at Disney World, starting with a fateful phone call informing the father (Roy Abramsohn) that he's losing his job, and continuing through a series of unsettling -- and progressively darker -- experiences in and around the park. It's a terrific premise, and Moore really didn't have to do much to make it work; Disney is such a mammoth brand, and filmgoers have already been so preconditioned to tune into the creepiness lurking at the edges of any theme park, that all he had to do was skew things a little to be effective.

In fact, initially, that's exactly what Escape from Tomorrow offers. The movie's black-and-white cinematography nudges you toward that clammy feeling Moore's aiming for, as does an early burst of subtly bad behavior from the son (Jack Dalton). You can feel things are just a bit off, and knowing about the father's unemployment is enough to tug at the tendrils of dread that lurk at the corners of respectable adulthood. With his first few scenes, Moore sets the stage for a thoughtful, borderline sadistic meditation on the dank swamps of 21st-century economic insecurity that threaten to strangle and drown the sort of cheery, consumer-driven nostalgia that Disney depends on. It's kind of perfect.

Unfortunately, Moore has more on his mind, and it isn't always possible to discern where he's coming from. Escape from Tomorrow quickly forks off into a different kind of movie, with Abramsohn's character revealed to be less of a panicked husband and father than a desperately horny weirdo who happens to be having a very bad day. He passive-aggressively fights with his wife (Elena Schuber), he drags his son and daughter (Katelynn Rodriguez) around the park in creepy pursuit of a pair of very young French girls (Annet Mahendru and Danielle Safady), he meets a woman with a magic necklace (Alison Lees-Taylor). Or maybe he doesn't -- things get so surreal after awhile that the movie becomes more an assortment of random images than a story.

All of which is fine in its fashion, and there's a certain amount of cinematic nourishment to be gleaned from a movie that uses a thoroughly mainstream entertainment factory as an unwilling partner in something that ends up being borderline avant garde. But there are ultimately too many sharp edges to digest here -- the performances range wildly, from passable to distractingly bad, and after awhile, it becomes obvious that Moore's reach exceeds his grasp; he swings between inscrutable editing choices that yank the story in odd directions and shockingly heavy-handed visuals that betray a dearth of interesting ideas. (Really, wasn't the sexual-come-on-followed-by-fireworks combo shot done to death by 1989?)

The end result is a movie that's more interesting than entertaining. It's worth seeing to get a glimpse of guerrilla-style filmmaking at a major Hollywood studio's expense, as well as a sort of bellwether for the sort of non-traditional movie that cheap digital cameras may one day make commonplace; it's also hard not to respect a movie that has this much wacky chutzpah at a time when that quality is in seriously short supply. It'll certainly be worth keeping an eye on whatever Moore dreams up next, but as far as Escape from Tomorrow is concerned? Your mileage may vary.

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About Jeff Giles

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Jeff is an entertainment writer and editor whose work currently appears at a variety of sites, including Rotten Tomatoes, Paste, American Songwriter, Popdose, Dadnabbit, Diffuser, and Ultimate Classic Rock.

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