What do you get when you combine awful characters, awful scripting, and awful performances…and plop them down smack dab in the middle of the happiest place on earth? You get the incoherent, practically unwatchable—but yet maddeningly fascinating—Escape from Tomorrow.
First released in late 2013 but finding some (though very little) footing in theaters throughout 2014, Escape from Tomorrow is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital (currently streaming on Netflix).
The film itself is largely unsuccessful in just about every way that you can consider, but there is a legitimately great story behind Escape from Tomorrow.
Ambitiously directed by first-time filmmaker Randy Moore, Escape from Tomorrow was shot over the course of roughly twenty-four days, guerrilla-style, at Walt Disney World and Disneyland…without receiving permission from the Walt Disney Company.
This approach required tremendous secrecy and creativity. Without the ability to use any lighting equipment, for example, months of planning went into the shoot to ensure that outdoor scenes were shot when the sun was at just the right point in the sky. The actors and filmmakers used their iPhones to review scripts. Portable audio recorders were strapped to the actors and left running all day. Footage was shot using video mode on Canon digital cameras so that the filmmakers would look like typical tourists snapping photos of their vacation. And the number of takes allowed for each shot and scene were limited in order to avoid suspicion from park employees and other visitors.
That is inspired, daring filmmaking that simply boggles the mind.
The movie itself, however—billed as a horror fantasy—does not live up to the legendary tale behind it.
A family from Bristol, Wisconsin (yay Wisconsin!) is winding down their vacation at Walt Disney World, when strange things begin to happen, primarily to the unhappy and unlikeable (more on this later) dad, Jim. After waking up one morning to a phone call from his boss telling him that he is losing his job, Jim enters the final days of the family vacation in an emotionally precarious state. Things only get worse when he begins to have disturbing, startling visions on the various Disney rides, and the minor trials and tribulations common to a family day at a theme park—hungry kids, scraped knees, closed rides—begin to take on ominous, threatening overtones.
Is Jim going crazy, or are there some sort of evil forces at play?
The problem with Escape from Tomorrow is that you simply don’t care.
Start with the family itself. They are all—parents and kids alike—thoroughly unlikeable and uninteresting. The kids go from emotionally dead to whining to screaming in less time than it takes to cannonball into an overcrowded resort pool. The mother is a caricature of the worst kind: a nagging, badgering shrew who is emotionally abusive toward her husband but a protective mother hen to her kids…right up to the point when she slaps her daughter for really no good reason. And dad Jim is not a character so much as a lecherous cliché. He follows two underage Parisian girls around the parks, leering and fantasizing over them like a low-rent Nabokov villain. He guzzles booze to the point that he ends up puking over the side of the boat on Epcot’s Gran Fiesta Tour. And he loses track of his kids multiple times as he stumbles through his narcissistic journey. Father of the Year material he ain’t.
It certainly does not help that the acting fails almost entirely across the board. While nobody in the cast stands out, Roy Abramsohn’s performance as Jim weighs the film down significantly. Asking Abramsohn to carry the film may well have been an unfair ask in the first place, considering his film and TV credits prior and subsequent to Escape from Tomorrow are almost entirely devoid of proper nouns. His recent roles include Subject #1, Reporter #2, Supervisor, Reporter #2 (different show!), Male Reporter, Man, Reporter #1, and Date #2. I could go on. Here, Abramsohn stammers, double takes, and grimaces through most of the movie, demonstrating that subtlety and nuance of a beer belch during a church service.
Even the bad acting, though, might have been palatable if the film itself were more interesting, but Escape from Tomorrow substitutes pretense for intelligence. The film presents itself (and it may even believe it) as having something profound to say, but it really doesn’t. American consumerism suffocating the family unit? No, not really. Corporate malfeasance disguised as good-natured family fun? Nope, that’s a miss. Male castration through marriage, fatherhood, and professional failure? Close, but no cigar.
Despite the audaciousness and ambition of the production, Escape from Tomorrow just isn’t very good. In fact, it’s downright bad. And it’s a shame. When you think about all the work, all the planning, all the ingenuity it took to make this movie, maybe they should have just gone the extra mile and made a good movie.
The making of Escape from Tomorrow will be a legendary story told in film schools and movie clubs for years and years to come, long after the movie itself is forgotten.
But in the end, Escape from Tomorrow is a just movie about four people who hate each other, and it is hard to blame them. After spending just 90 minutes with them, you will too.