This review was originally published on January 25, 2013…
Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow became one of the most buzzed about films of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival within minutes of the end of its premiere. Those who come to Sundance looking for true independents, the films that don’t come with Oscar winners attached and approach the art of filmmaking from an honestly unique angle, picked up Moore’s experimental film and put it on a lofty pedestal. Looking at the film closely, the pedestal feels a bit too high. One wishes a few different decisions had been made, especially during post-production, but no one can deny the originality of a piece that’s unlike anything else to play in Park City (or anywhere for that matter) in 2013.
Jim (Roy Abramsohn) seems like a pretty average family man. The film opens on the last day of a trip to Disney World with his family – wife Emily (Elena Schuber), daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez), and son Elliot (Jack Dalton). That morning, Jim’s boss calls him and lets him go. He’s unemployed and on edge, not exactly the best way to be at a place that shoves happiness down your throat. Jim’s descent into madness Disney-style starts innocently enough with a few demonic faces looking back at him from the overly cheery rides of Orlando and a slight obsession with following two young French girls (Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru) around the park (even if that means taking young Elliot on Space Mountain to get another look at the pair) but before Jim hits rock bottom he will see a side of family paradise that most could never, to use a word that plays incessantly in one of the park’s many songs, “imaginate.”
Moore and his small cast actually filmed Escape From Tomorrow at Orlando’s Disney World and Epcot Center and the guerrilla-style approach is the film’s greatest charm. Many have questioned whether or not Escape could ever be released in theaters given that the filmmakers never got approval from Disney and use the company’s iconography in disturbing ways (even suggesting at one point that the women who dress up like Disney princesses also serve as courtesans for Asian businessmen willing to pay a hefty price to sleep with Cinderella). Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time at Disney World can see the inherent potential in using the location as a setting for a descent into madness. The non-stop music, the oppressive happiness of the place, and the masses of coughing, pushing tourists give the place a surreal quality long before any screenwriting begins. And the fact that Moore saw that and figured out a fun way to turn it into filmmaking gets Escape major points in my book.
However, originality only gets you so far. I can’t shake the feeling that Escape From Tomorrow might have been the best 20-minute short film ever made. Get in, get creepy, get out. It could have worked at 80 minutes but the film really sags at over 100. The jokes wear thin and one gets the impression that every first-take minute of film that was shot was included. Some needed another take. Some needed to be cut. Jim runs after the two French girls too many times for the joke to work and the movie feels long when it needed to be streamlined to be effective. It doesn’t help that Abramsohn often makes the broad comedy decision as an actor when a more realistic one would have been more effective. Many in Park City compared Escape From Tomorrow to a darker version of the Griswold’s trip to Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation and the comparison feels apt but also is one of the film’s biggest problems. I wanted more David Lynch and less Chevy Chase.
Ultimately, Escape From Tomorrow feels bound to obtain cult film status just for the way it undercuts the Mouse House dynasty and turns the happiest place on Earth into a den of infidelity, pedophilia, illness, and general insanity. I wish it was shorter and I wish it was smarter but I’m happy this Escape exists. If there were more films like it, ones willing to take risks, there would be fewer complaints about the over-commercialization of Sundance.