A witty premise informs the low budget black-and-white science fiction / corporate conspiracy thriller / family dramadey Escape From Tomorrow. A flawed— some might call them dysfunctional— family visits Disneyland for a vacation only to gradually learn something is not quite right in the phony, stagey land of blissful innocence. It’s too bad it feels like a badly acted, contrived, overly long “Twilight Zone” episode. The concept seems like rich fodder to lampoon the soul-numbing, drug-like experience of these escapist theme parks, which are so rich in hypocrisy. The effort to to make this film such a statement is there, but if only it had been better tempered and less self-aware.
The fact that director Randy Moore covertly shot the film at the real Disneyland in Anaheim, California and Disney World in Orlando, Florida adds to the film’s selling points. That it does not feel discreetly shot stands as testament to the filmmakers inventiveness. Creative shots throughout make one wonder how they actually got away with some of it, though sometimes it seems clearly shot against a blue screen. But the fact the viewer can feel so distracted from the story to look for these moments and wonder about the how they did that rather than invest in the characters speaks to the inherit weakness in the film-making.
The film follows husband and wife Jim (Roy Abramsohn) and Emily (Elena Schuber) who have brought their children Elliot (Jack Dalton) and Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) to the world-famous amusement park. The drama around the family feels grounded enough. Upon waking in a room at Disney’s famous Contemporary Hotel, pudgy, beat-down Jim takes a phone call from his boss out on the terrace. As he swigs a beer for breakfast, he learns he has been laid off. Elliot, in the meantime, locks him outside. And the malaise is set.
They ride the monorail to the Magic Kingdom where Jim first sets his ever-wandering eyes on two nubile French teens (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) who later seem to conveniently end up on all the rides the family tries to enjoy together. I say they “try” to enjoy the rides because there is decapitation and demons seemingly hiding in the shadows of the rides that Jim can’t seem to shake. He ends up exploring the cracks in this land of supposed happiness while struggling with petty family conflicts to unveil one conspiracy after another.
If only the film felt consistent and could balance the horror of revelations like Disney princesses who also accept propositions from wealthy Chinese businessmen with decent acting and a more compact script. A little subtlety could have gone a long way. For every witty revelation, there’s something like the migraine-inducing blown-out white-drenched scene at a pool that’s uncomfortable to look at for anyone who has seen a properly shot black and white film. Escape From Tomorrow just cannot seem to rise to its premise with sloppy filmmaking on too many levels.
Escape From Tomorrow runs 103 minutes and is not rated (the poster art should reveal that it’s not for kids, though fine for the further embittering of teens as they face adulthood). It opened in limited release across the U.S. this past Friday (see some screening dates). In South Florida, it’s now playing at O Cinema in Miami, Miami Beach Cinematheque and MDCulture Art Cinema at Koubek Theater in Miami. I was provided a preview screener for the purpose of this review.