Filmed in black and white, with a deliriously off-kilter ambience, “Escape From Tomorrow” feels like a long lost episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits”, suppressed for years by Disney and only now coming to light.
It tells the story of Jim White (Roy Abramsohn), a middle-aged father of two who learns he has lost his job during the last days of his family’s Disneyworld vacation. Keeping the news from his family so as not to spoil the holiday, they all head off to the park however a chance encounter with two young French girls draws Jim into an increasingly disturbing and series of hallucinations and encounters which will cause him to question his own sanity and the truth behind ‘the happiest place on Earth’.
The most remarkable thing about “Escape From Tomorrow” was that writer/ director Randy Moore and the cast filmed all of the Disney footage without permission, shooting guerrilla style on handheld cameras and keeping their scripts on smartphones to better blend in with the genuine tourists. There’s a winning audacity to subverting the House of Mouse’s most cherished values in its own back yard and the technical ingenuity needed to pull it off is breathtaking. Shooting in black and white, with no option to use artificial lighting set-ups, the production team had to calculate when the sun would be in the correct position to film – often for a window of only a few minutes – months in advance.
The script is suitably creepy and while the ending is deliberately murky and open to a variety of interpretations, like the theme park it’s set in, this is about enjoying the thrills and scares of the ride than necessarily the satisfaction of a neat finish. The cast are remarkably solid given the conditions under which they were filming, particularly in the public scenes in the park. The children especially give impressively natural performances but the film pivots on Abramsohn’s turn as the increasingly unhinged and paranoid Roy and he sells the distress well.
For a while it was unclear whether the film would see the light of day, given Disney’s notoriously touchy attitude to protecting its brand but in this case, wiser heads prevailed and rather than launch a massive suppression campaign and risk the Streisand Effect, they opted to politely ‘ignore’ the film, giving it the chance to be appreciated by an audience without inadvertently giving it more publicity.
It’ll hit DVD in the UK in September 2014 but you can get the region 1 import if you’re super-keen to see it, or find it on Netflix USA . Ultimately, its still a film which is more fascinating for how it was made than the story it tells but it’s creepy and atmospheric and surreally effective at showing the dark underbelly of the forced jollity of theme parks. With the recent trend for break-out indie directors landing big budget jobs (Gareth Edwards, “Godzilla”; Josh Trank, “The Fantastic Four”), it’ll be fascinating to see what Randy Moore does next.