Escape From Tomorrow (2013). Directed by Randy Moore. Starring Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber and Katelynn Rodriguez. Currently available on Netflix streaming.
Escape From Tomorrow (2013) is a strange, low budget indie film that shows Disneyland as a sinister place with dark forces lurking just beneath the cheerfulness. What makes the film especially interesting is that it was filmed, presumably unauthorized at Disneyland, which is an accomplishment in itself. It’s almost surprising that a dominant brand such as Disney didn’t prevent this film from being released. Perhaps they concluded that the negative publicity of a high-profile lawsuit would outweigh the benefits of letting a low-key indie film that relatively few people would see anyway.
Jim (Abramsohn) finds out that he’s been fired from his job just as he and his family are on vacation in Disneyland. He begins bickering with his wife Emily (Schuber) and struggles to maintain his sanity as he takes his two kids around the park. He becomes obsessed with two French teenage girls, who he repeatedly sees. As the couple becomes increasingly estranged from each other, events in the theme park become more and more sinister and surreal. By the final scenes, we are in the realm of dystopian sci-fi. That’s about all I’ll say about the plot, which is confusing and open to interpretation anyway (how much is in Jim’s mind and how much is real?).
While I found Escape From Tomorrow interesting, I have to admit that the actual movie never quite lives up to its promising concept -athe deconstruction of an American cultural icon. I’ve never been to Disneyland but have always found the whole Disney empire somewhat creepy. The theme park’s very nickname, “The happiest place on earth” even sounds like a slogan that belongs in dystopian fiction.
That Moore managed to film this black and white film in the actual theme park and turn the Disney mythology on its head is impressive. On the New York Times review of the film, you can see an interesting clip where Moore describes some of his techniques.
As for the execution of the film, the results are mixed. it only runs about 90 minutes but it seems quite long as there really isn’t much going on. The style and genre of the movie towards the end, shift from Jim’s unhappy and possibly unreliable psychological state into something resembling the German expressionism of Metropolis. Even the ending is not without interest and suspense, but it doesn’t feel like it’s from the same film we started watching.Jim’s pursuit of the French girls is something that could have been inserted in any film about a disaffected middle-aged guy.
Jim’s pursuit of the French girls is something that could have been inserted in any film about a disaffected middle-aged guy. Disneyland, meanwhile, is such a specific target and so deeply embedded in modern American folklore that it deserves a more thorough expose. Moore managed to infiltrate the theme park to film the movie, but his subjective vision ends up missing the mark and collapsing into a generic mishmosh of unhappy family dynamics, repressed sexuality and, ultimately, dark sci-fi. By the final scenes, the film could have taken place on a distant star or in the Twilight Zone just as easily as Disneyland.
All the same, Moore does deserve credit for his efforts. He does succeed, for much of the film, at revealing the possibility that the kind of “happiness” promised by Disneyland is not only fake but hides something truly dark and frightening. We’ve seen hundreds of movies (and TV episodes) where a serial killer has a pleasant smile and a happy-go-lucky facade. We can also read insightful but dry critiques of Disneyland as a tool of modern corporate capitalism.
I admire the way the film imbues iconic images such as Mickey Mouse, the Disneyland castle and the ubiquitous song “It’s a Small World After All” with existential dread. Had it been a little more focused, Escape From Tomorrow might have done for that song what David Lynch’s Blue Velvet did for the song his film was named after.