Writer/Director Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow was shot on location at Disney World in Florida without permission – a decision that gives the film an air of tension and makes it so direct and unflinching that it can, at times, be uncomfortable to watch.
This is not the first film that has been made in this such guerilla style – another notable example is Jafar Panahi’s Offside. Protesting laws forbidding women in Iran from entering sports arenas, Panahi and his all-female cast shot that film outside the Azadi Stadium in Tehran while a World Cup qualifier was being played inside.
There, Panahi could have faced repercussions from the Iranian government, but here Moore puts himself in the firing line of a much more unforgiving and brutal authority – the Disney Corporation.
Given the clandestine nature of the production, it would be reasonable to expect nerves to be showing in the film and for a Blair Witch-type aesthetic. Looking at the final product, though, you wouldn’t have thought it was all shot in secret.
It looks as well made as any film shot by or in a studio, with beautiful photography by Lucas Lee Graham. The knowledge of the extra efforts that have gone into the location shoots (Moore supposedly made the cast ride “It’s a Small World” twelve times for the filming of one scene), straight away creates a deeper appreciation and affection for the filmmakers. Thankfully, that
While on holiday at Disney World with his family, middle-age Jim’s (Roy Abramsohn) life seems to be falling apart – he has lost his job, his children give him no respect and his wife (Elena Schuber) is giving him grief about ruining the holiday, and his wondering eye.
Jim’s feelings of hopelessness eventually seem to take a toll on his psyche, as he seemingly constructs a scenario where he learns of the supposed true nature of the park – one involving a secret underground lab, alluring Princesses and fairies and a disease spread by cats. It’s part of a new narrative where he is the hero and has to save his family.
Anyone who’s had a bad holiday will recognise something from Escape from Tomorrow, such as the tensions from being in constant close quarters and the pressure to have a good time. It’s savagely observed, but what it does best is perfectly capture and dismantle the idea that, in these anxious times, Disney theme parks are seen as a sort of nirvana which can make all of life’s problems go away.
“People come here because they want to feel safe. They’re afraid,” says one of the characters Jim meets on his journey, a fired former Disney princess. A line she delivers at a moment when nothing feels particularly safe. It’s true, though, visiting a theme park will not make all your problems disappear – which is particularly true in Jim and his family’s case.
The film ramps up the surrealism as it goes on, before maybe going a bit too far with a final scene that doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion (if it had ended a few minutes sooner it would have been better). It does not deviate from its voice, though, and remains uncompromising to the end.
Escape from Tomorrow might be a bit too sardonic and extreme for some, but it is nonetheless a brave, unique and unforgettable experience. This is a real undiscovered gem, ripe for re-discovery.