The following article was original posted to Talkbacker on November 14, 2013. Since that time I've grown fonder of this unique slab of surreal guerrilla filmmaking and as such I feel it deserves a bigger audience, one that it will hopefully find with help from The Supernaughts.
Like most people, I learned of the film Escape from Tomorrow due to the press it was getting for being shot almost entirely in and around both Disney World and Disneyland using guerrilla filmmaking techniques. First time director Randy Moore didn’t receive or seek out permission from Disney to use the locations in the movie and not only did he use them, he also featured them predominantly in the movie. Obviously being a huge Disney fan, I was very intrigued by this. Could he actually pull off a coherent, well-made film under such restraints? I’ll answer that question soon enough.
Before watching the film, that was all I knew about it. Since watching the film, I still don’t know much about it. Of course I’m exaggerating, but the truth is that I still don’t know what the heck the meaning of it all was or the importance of certain scenes. Usually I’ll immediately hit the web to figure out that which I didn’t understand, but this time I figured I’d avoid that and instead take a different approach. I will review the movie while still in the dark on certain aspects, in hopes of spurring conversation among my fellow Supernaughts that have also seen it to enlighten me on that which I didn’t get. I’ll also keep the article itself mostly spoiler free (can’t say the same for the comments) so that I can hopefully entice others to watch it and join in on the dissection.
OK, so what exactly is Escape from Tomorrow all about? Well, it’s a surreal black-and-white film noir that takes place during a family’s last day of vacationing at Walt Disney World. It focuses mainly on the father, played by Roy Abramsohn (Weeds, Area 51), who finds out he has been let go from his job very early in the film. From there it spirals into what can loosely be described as the father having a nervous breakdown or mid-life crisis. He becomes intoxicated by two teenage French girls and essentially follows them around the park for much of the film. Throughout the stalking, he argues with his wife and others, his son appears to hate him, he has disturbing hallucinations, is “magically” seduced, gets wasted on booze, loses track of his daughter, and eventually gets captured.
Overall, the movie is kind of all over the place and this works both for and against it. If you’re going to do crazy surrealism like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, that sort of thing is expected and welcome, but it’s very difficult to pull off consistently. Most of it works quite well in Escape from Tomorrow, such as everything involving the French girls and the park rides. However, it also goes off the rails during later scenes with the seductress and the arrival of the guards. Those in particular weren’t very well done and ruined the overall mood somewhat. I also think they should have kept everything to the father’s viewpoint. Scenes not involving him seemed out of place in the grand scheme of things.
As for the acting performances, those too were wildly varied. The father was mostly great in his bewildered, confused state of mind, but also came off amateurish at times. His wife was mostly annoying and overbearing, which was her role I guess, but it was grating and a bit over the top. The seductress was probably the weakest link as I didn’t really buy her act at all and she came off as just plain silly more than anything. Strangely enough the child actors were probably the standouts. His kids were excellent, which is pretty amazing considering the circumstances involved, and the French girls were great (one of whom is played by Annet Mahendru who has since found fame with The Americans and will appear in an episode of the upcoming revival of The X-Files).
The strongest aspect of the movie is easily its presentation. From a technical standpoint it’s nothing special, having been filmed on handheld cameras in black-and-white, but I don’t think it would have succeeded nearly as well in color with professional equipment. The novice look of the film adds weight to the sense of actually being at Disney with these guys, while the lack of color enhances the surreal nature. I also think they pulled off the guerrilla tactics perfectly. I never felt like I was watching something that wasn’t supposed to be filmed. It looked like a legitimate, authorized production that was filmed at Disney.
Finally, the most important element to Escape from Tomorrow is its story, theme, and lasting impact. The plot itself is simple enough as not a whole lot happens, generally speaking. It’s easy to follow and most of it ties together in the end. However, the surreal moments and ideas brought forth by the film kept me interested and entertained throughout. I love movies that make me think and question what is exactly going on without giving a perfect resolution. It adds value and provokes discussion. Escape from Tomorrow succeeds at this, maybe not to the extent of amazing classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Mulholland Drive, but certainly well enough to be worth talking about.
Did the flu have a greater meaning? What exactly was going on at Epcot? Was there any point to the stuff with the guy in the wheelchair (and yes, I suspect he’ll remind you of someone)? Why did his son just do nothing? The hell was that at the end and who was that woman? Did any of it even happen to begin with? All of this and more will hopefully be discussed in the talkback below.
Escape from Tomorrow is far from an amazing film. Aside from the circumstances surrounding the shoot, it doesn’t really standout in any way and it’s not going to win any awards in acting or cinematography. However, I really enjoyed it and feel that it’s a great little film with something different to offer. I strongly recommended this for fans of surreal films and/or Disney in general.