Escape from Tomorrow is a helluva stunt and a mediocre movie. And I’m being generous with the latter assessment. The debut feature from writer-director Randy Moore traces one family’s problematic day at the Happiest Place on Earth, marked most notably by what appears to be a slow motion mental breakdown by the father (Roy Abrahamson), who has just found out that he’s lost his job. It’s also the last day of his family’s vacation at one of the Disney resorts, so he chooses to soldier on, giving the clan what would seem to be one more day of blissful escapism before cold reality comes crashing down. To achieve this, Moore shot surreptitiously in Disney theme parks in Florida and California, looking like an average tourist who happens to be pointing his camcorder in the direction of some familial discord. To think of what this must have taken is a little mind-boggling, as multiple takes would be hard to come by and the lighting needed to come strictly from the sun since supplemental bulbs would ultimately drawing too much attention to the guerilla filmmaking. Even though there’s some fairly obvious green screen work making some of the most exposition-laden scenes possible and a few contrivances to shift the action to more friendly locales, it’s consistently fascinating to watch the action play out while considering the intricate coordination and out-in-the-open stealth that went into making the film happen.
If only Moore had worked his ideas with greater care. The film is all over the place. It’s at its best when its simplest: one man quietly melting down and having the extreme stress that paradoxically comes from existing in a relentlessly cheerful place (anyone who’s spent time in one of the Disney parks has seen ample evidence of the way simply getting from spot to spot can coax the rawest of emotions to the fore) start to mess with his head. Given this context, a shot of an animatronic Winnie the Pooh devouring honey becomes terrifying. But the film also traffics in some of the urban legends surrounding Disney and implies that there’s a deeper menace at work, only to drop these diversions like overly warmed turkey legs. And while there’s a genuinely great, dark film to be made about the Disney corporate insistence on making sure nothing bad ever happens in the parks (oh, I’ve heard stories), Moore only tinkers with that notion, never tying his ragged threads together. The movie is overly fragmented, as if Moore couldn’t quite figure out what he wanted it to be, like he figured out he wanted to riskily shoot in the parks but couldn’t quite settle on the right story to justify his gimmick. I remain amazed that he managed to get the film into general release, considering Disney’s famously protective lawyers. Maybe they figure out–correctly, I’d say–that Escape from Tomorrow is ultimately too muddled to be a threat.