If one were to ask what film is generating the most buzz at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the answer would most likely be the audacious and provocative Escape From Tomorrow. Shot guerrilla-style in both Disneyland and Disney World without the permission of Mickey Mouse himself, the film focuses on a father’s surreal descent into madness at the amusement park. It’s safe to say that Disney will try and block it from being released, but that being said, there is no doubt that this film will enjoy a cult status whenever it is released, for its bravado and bold style. While imperfect in many ways, there is an abundance of cinematic originality to revel in that makes Randy Moore‘s Escape From Tomorrow feel like a dizzying teacup ride into madness.
The premise is simple: on the last day of their family Disney vacation, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is laid off from his job. This event serves as a catalyst for a hallucinatory experience, as our protagonist tries to enjoy time with his family but instead becomes distracted by the creepy facade of what makes this family fantasy getaways appealing. Things take a turn for the worst when two young French girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) become a sexual fantasy for Jim, turning his obsession to follow the girls into a nightmare. As the film progresses, the disney rabbit hole goes deeper and deeper, becoming a full-on surreal hallucination and an unusual statement about what the family vacation represents.
The film is dripping with style, not unlike a Fellini-esque vacation gone wrong. The director has stated that much of the film is derived from personal experiences growing up near Disney World with his father and for anyone that has childhood memories about these amusement parks, it will be hard to look at them in the same light after experiencing this film. While the spectacle of shooting on Disney’s premises without permission is an interesting conceit, the shock and awe effect of this wears off pretty early on. What sustains the film is it’s distinctive approach, that in many ways mirrors classic live-action Disney films with the incorporation of a green screen background.
One downside of Escape from Tomorrow is that it stumbles into many pitfalls familiar to amateur filmmakers. Some scenes are overlong and the acting from our lead is occasionally off-putting and clumsy. But it’s not enough to deter from the spiraling spectacle of madness, complete with memorable Disney rides getting a demonic makeover and transforming what could have been a dull experience into a engrossing one. Escape from Tomorrow might rub some the wrong way but it has an undeniable cinematic charm, however perverse it may be.