With Escape from Tomorrow, one fears the story behind the movie would loom larger than the movie itself. Luckily, that is not the case. After all, it opens with a decapitation on Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster.
For those who don’t know, much of Escape from Tomorrow was shot surreptitiously at Disney World and Disneyland, somehow without attracting attention of park security. Audiences will understand why when the film screens Friday and Saturday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Beer-bellied and sex-deprived, family man Jim (Roy Abramsohn, Creepshow III) finds out he’s fired while he’s “vacationing” at Walt Disney World Resort, yet neglects to inform his nagging wife (Elena Schuber) or their two couldn’t-care-less kids (Katelynn Rodriguez and Jack Dalton) of the fact. Therefore, spending the day at a supposedly happy place at which he clearly doesn’t care to be becomes all the more miserable for him, not to mention hallucinatory.
Increasingly, Jim is a nervous bundle of anxiety whose only salve is lusting after fellow tourists, primarily two French teenage girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) who frolic about the grounds like twin Lolitas.
Debuting writer/director Randy Moore uses the theme-park setting to explore a nightmare — and then some — of one suburban man with a lot on his mind but little hope for the future. Moore’s mix of Epcot and apprehension plays well as a deeply dark comedy — darker than the ink ol’ Walt himself first used to fill in the ears of the cartoon mouse that made this place possible.
One hour in, an intermission card is thrown on-screen. It’s not a true intermission in that viewers are welcome to get up and visit the restroom without fear of missing a frame; it’s a marker of Escape from Tomorrow’s point of no return, because after fading back from black, the movie goes to infinity and beyond, and then to the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.
By that, I mean, wow, does this thing get really weird, veering from mere comedy to straddle the realms of David Lynch-style horror, sci-fi and I don’t even know what else. It’s a remarkable thing, not just as an exercise in guerrilla filmmaking but an original tale that thumbs its comically oversized nose at convention. You may very well hate it; please don’t.
Abramsohn excels at pathetic and deadpan, while Schuber nails her role as an Everymom who long ago transferred love for her husband to their children. She now sees him as a child himself, albeit one with prodigious back hair. They give Moore the painful realism the film first requires before taking off toward a surrealist beauty. It’s possible this trail had been tread in 1951, by Disney’s own Alice in Wonderland; it’s more certain that someone took a hit from the caterpillar’s hookah.