There are some films that are just difficult to review because they escape the bounds of genre, some films that turn everything we expect upside-down. The psychological thriller Escape from Tomorrow, a freshman outing for director Randy Moore, defies labels and is reminiscent of the psychedelia horror films of the mid-70s than any modern shaky-cam found-footage thriller.
And yet, what makes Escape from Tomorrow so worth seeing is that it was all filmed surreptitiously at and around Walt Disneyworld, including footage of the actors on specific rides like Spaceship Earth, Big Thunder Mountain and It’s a Small World.
The film centers on typical American dad Jim White (Roy Abramsohn), who gets a somewhat mysterious call from his boss during their family vacation: He’s been fired. He keeps the news from his tense wife Emily (Elena Schuber), creepy and distant young son Elliot (Jack Dalton) and perpetually cooperative daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) so that they can enjoy their last day at the park.
But this last day starts weird and gets increasingly bizarre with the introduction of two nubile Parisian teens Sophie (Danielle Safady), Isabelle (Annet Mahendru) who share their monorail ride towards the Magic Kingdom. The girls flirt with young Elliot but it’s Jim who is entranced, ultimately following them around the park all day, even to the point of dragging his son onto Space Mountain (Elliot subsequently throws up after they’re off the ride).
Once Jim is established as a man with a wandering eye, we become privy to his fantasies, first chaste visions of him sharing a ride with the two girls who kiss him on the cheek, then racier and more explicit fantasies about other women he encounters, including a raven-haired mom (Alison Lees-Taylor) who isn’t at all what she seems and has quite a history with the park.
The film spins off in increasingly strange directions and the two French girls are always at the periphery, luring Jim to ever-worse judgment. He gets drunk while at the German beer hall at EPCOT just to throw up over the side of the boat on the “El Rio del Tiempo” ride, as Emily tells the children to “look at the fireworks!” In addition to the teens, there’s also a recurring societal corruption motif of “cat fever”, a deadly pathogen that affects children and sometimes their moms and dads, including a curious sequence where Jim takes Sara in for medical treatment, just to spend the entire time staring at the nurse’s cleavage. They leave after her stern warning to be careful and the nurse (Amy Lucas) bursts into tears as the scene cuts away.
We also learn of a secret prostitution ring at Disneyworld where Asian businessmen pay thousands of dollars to have sex with the Disney princesses. In his fevered vision, Jim stands and watches aghast as two Asian men fondle Ariel, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Later, there are suggestions that the entire experience is a experiment in brainwashing by an evil multinational corporation. By that point, however, Jim’s libido has gotten so powerful that it’s completely distorted our reality too.
I’m not sure that I actually liked Escape from Tomorrow, having shared this much of its storyline. There’s something delightfully perverse about filming a psychological thriller, a weird, dystopic and psychedelic movie on Disney property, but once you get past the secret and voyeuristic pleasure of watching a fairly normal American family slowly fall apart as the evil draw of the park exerts its influence on them, the film itself is just… bizarre. And the ending? Definitely strange and vaguely disturbing.
If you’re a fan of Disney, it’s quite possible you’ll enjoy this weird horror film, even if it’s on LSD. Give it a whirl if you can find it and let me know what you think!