Escape From Tomorrow
Runs Fri., Oct. 11–Thurs., Oct. 17 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 90 minutes.
Turns out those kids who dread going inside Space Mountain or the scary Cinderella Castle have been right all along. Something sinister lurks inside the Magic Kingdom; scratch the surface and evil comes leaking out. That the “Happiest Place on Earth” might hide a shadow beneath the sunshine isn’t an especially bold idea, and—to its credit—the brand of creeping horror found in Escape From Tomorrow is more than a specific attack on a rather easy target.
First-time filmmaker Randy Moore shot his movie at Disney World and Epcot Center without asking permission, an act of bravado that made it instantly notorious at Sundance this year. (You’re seeing the film now because the trademark-protective Disney folk have decided to ignore it as much as possible and weather the storm.) Although this suggests an underground aesthetic, the black-and-white result is sharply composed, tightly scripted, and dense with digital effects. Abel Korzeniowski’s grand score, peppered with soundtrack nuggets from other films, is another unexpected touch. And while the movie does have fun letting the air out of certain beloved Disney balloons—did those vapidly grinning puppets in “It’s a Small World” just flash a fang-baring grimace?—the nightmare that unfolds has more to do with a general human tendency to retreat into fantasyland than with a slam on Walt Disney.
We are following Jim (Roy Abramsohn) and Emily (Elena Schuber) as they escort their two kids through a final day of fun at Disney’s two Orlando theme parks. Jim’s a beefy American Dad from the Craig T. Nelson mold, but with a distinct weakness for perving on teenage French girls and believing urban legends about the bedroom habits of Disney “princesses.” His journey eventually goes off its funhouse rails and enters a surreal realm, with a Shining-esque hint that maybe Jim was always meant to be here. Escape doesn’t entirely hold together, and its more baffling moments—did that Disney nurse just say something about “cat flu”?—suggest that it was never meant to. That Moore and his cast shot a movie under Mickey Mouse’s nose is a fun factoid, and there are some “How’d they do that?” moments, for sure. But the guerrilla-moviemaking stunt is just the beginning. What’s really exposed here isn’t Disney World, but us.