Escape from Tomorrow has a great hook. Writer/director Randy Moore shot his low-budget, satirical horror film on the sly at Disney World and Epcot Center. He did so without Mickey Mouse's permission, using the real-life location as foundation for a surreal nightmare. The footage he got is remarkable. Animatronic puppets and the costumed characters are easily transformed into sinister threats via the sneaky black-and-white photography and a few digital tricks. For the first twenty minutes or so, one can't help but marvel at not just how much access Moore and his team stole, but how elaborate some of the set-ups are. Multiple angles, overlapping scenes--how the hell did they do it?
Unfortunately, once the gimmick wears off, there's not much else to recommend Escape from Tomorrow. For the truly curious, it's worth checking out, but you'll do best to bail midway. Probably around the first time you see Moore use bad rear-screen projection to place the characters in Disney World for scenes a little too difficult to steal. Once the seams start to show, you're going to also start to see how poorly acted and badly written Escape from Tomorrow really is.
The basic story is pretty...well, basic. Roy Abramsohn (Creepshow III) plays Jim, father of two, on the last day of his vacation with his family. His wife (Elena Schuber) is always on his case, and his son (Jack Dalton) knows how to play his parents against each other. Only Jim's princess, his daughter Sara (Katelyn Rodriguez), seems to genuinely like him. Things have gone a bit pear-shaped for Jim. His morning began with a phone call informing him that he's lost his job. All he wants is for his last day in the Magic Kingdom to give him a momentary reprieve from real life.
Moore's intention is not difficult to puzzle out. Jim is a man of little imagination, and Disney World is a place that, arguably, was built on imagination. As it beckons him to take hold of its pleasures, it reveals itself as a kind of Goblin Market: nothing is as it seems, and it all comes at a price. Jim both chases and falls victim to several varied traps and temptations: underage French pixies, an evil witch, a mad scientist and robots, a mysterious pandemic, junk food and sweaty tourists. In a better horror movie, these details would all be spoilers, but as revelations within Escape from Tomorrow's narrative, they are of little consequence. Only a few of them relate back to the Disney experience, not a single one of them connects to each other. By the time Moore picks which thread will actually sew up his messy approximation of a plot, it's too late. I was happy it was over rather than intrigued by the resolution.
Which is just too bad. Escape from Tomorrow is a real squandered opportunity. Then again, had Moore actually made a decent film, Disney would likely have squashed it. The prevailing theory for why the Mouse has let this film come out is that to fight it would just give it publicity. This makes sense. Escape from Tomorrow will sink all on its own. Once word gets around the scares are missing and the few jokes that land are unintentional, the potential gawkers drawn to the concept will have moved on to something else. Even the "so bad it's good" crowd will have trouble justifying this one. It's a rollercoaster straight down to nowhere.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.