“Dad, why are we following those girls?”
If you ever thought about going to Walt Disney World with the intention of shooting a dark psychological horror film on the sly about the multi-billion dollar corporation’s way too pristine façade hiding a seedy underbelly of prostitution, disease, and scientific espionage, I’m sorry but you’re too late. First time writer/director Randy Moore might not be the first person to film underneath Mickey’s nose without permission, but he’s definitely become the most famous for his audacity to twist iconic rides and visuals into the nightmarish journey of a man at the end of his rope. Half of what he’s created is more than likely dream while the other is warped through a filter of depression, lust, and alcohol—which is which, however, is a decision left to viewer interpretation.
The start of Escape From Tomorrow may seem a bit off due to its stark black and white, heightened state of familial strain, and weirdly pedophilic sexuality, but it’s actually pure normalcy when compared to what occurs after the intermission. We listen to Jim (Roy Abramsohn) trying to comprehend the fact he’s just been fired over the phone while on vacation, watch his young son Elliot (Jack Dalton) look him in the eye as he locks him outside on the balcony, and introduce ourselves to daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and wife Emily (Elena Schuber) as they awaken for their final day at the park. Jim keeps his call private so they can enjoy themselves without the bad news crushing their spirits and each puts on an easy smile while the monorail whisks them towards the Magic Kingdom.
It isn’t all fun and games for the seemingly happy family once a pair of Parisian teens (Annet Mahendru‘s Isabelle and Danielle Safady‘s Sophie) giggle their way onboard the tram, though. They embarrass Elliot into hiding behind his mother’s arm while Jim becomes captivated by their youthful allure, harmlessly staring in the knowledge that Disney’s daily attendance won’t allow have them crossing paths again. But when he begins hallucinating that the It’s a Small World characters are laughing at him with evil eyes and smug sneers, it’s no surprise the girls are seen tauntingly skipping by as well. Splitting up with Emily so she can escort Sara to the teacups while he takes Elliot to Buzz Lightyear, this married man can’t help keeping his head on a swivel in case his infatuations return.
Escape From Tomorrow begins to flesh itself out as a tale of infidelity and adulterous thoughts on behalf of a highly sexual creature getting shutdown by his wife and frustrated by his children. One could say the title aligns less with the park’s Tomorrowland attraction and more with his new future about to begin unemployed and ambivalent to the life he’s built. Isabelle and Sophie provide a fantasy with which to shake him from the doldrums of suburban Dad land, letting his attention drift from the children as his pleasure is paralleled by their pain. Elliot becomes sick when Jim forces him onto Space Mountain to keep his eyes on the girls and Sara acquires a scraped knee after getting “accidentally” pushed over by the son of a creepy enigma of a man (Lee Armstrong) while unsupervised.
His inability to focus on his family above Disney’s promise of being the Happiest Place on Earth—think a darker version of the not so subtly adult-themed nightlife area named after Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island—provides more ghoulish manifestations that his penchant for beer and margaritas doesn’t help. His view of Emily turns into that of an ungrateful wet blanket who worries too much; Sophie begins to unbelievably take an interest in him from afar; and a more age-appropriate stranger (Alison Lees-Taylor) appears to hypnotize him into finally going too far with his imagination. All part of the Disney package, the usual kids leading their parents around until their breaking points of good humor morphs out of control. Jim doesn’t have anything good awaiting his return so he must make due in the wonderland he has created.
It’s all an inspired subversion of the idyllic dream Disney’s marketing machine has ingrained in our minds, but at a certain point it does become redundant. The first two thirds seem to go around in circles with only an end of divorce or injury to come. Yes things escalate as Jim’s descent into his hellish nightmare becomes more rapid, but where exactly can it go besides the obvious arrest for some sort of child abuse when his desire for Isabelle and Sophie can no longer be controlled? I think Moore realized this and as a result decided to go into Lynchian territory by introducing multiple timelines, alternate identities, mad scientists (Stass Klassen), a twisted definition for “Imagineers”, and a frighteningly warped army of janitors going above and beyond sanitation.
The final act is an insane journey of special effects, nudity, blatant sexual innuendo, bloody transformations, and conspiracy theorems that should have put Siemens on the defamation defensive as much as Disney. It’s a complete departure from the beginning populated by fascinating details to decipher in an end cap as impressively unique as it is contrived to project a secondary importance to the rest. The film’s biggest draw may be its gimmick of guerilla filmmaking (as long as you don’t get caught up on the bad green screen work), but Moore’s intensity comes a close second. He commits to his surrealist send-up of cherished pop culture by merging Princess fantasy with dark despair while perhaps also explaining why Disney animals talk. A wholly unique tour inside a troubled mind, it’s definitely more than mere curiosity. How much more is up to you.