You don’t have to be a parent who has survived dragging small children through the wonders of Walt Disney World to “get” the paranoid Gothic vamp Escape From Tomorrow. But it helps.
A demented black-and-white acid trip through bad news in a bad marriage with bad parenting, all experienced at “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Escape is Breaking Bad without all the cooking and meth dealers.
But middle-aged man in crisis? Escape has that. Jim (Roy Abramsohn) takes the news that he’s been laid off by phone — standing on the balcony of the Contemporary Resort (the hotel that the Disney monorail goes through) so that he doesn’t wake his family.
His creepy little boy Elliot (Jack Dalton) locks the door so he can’t get back in. That is just the first sign of Elliot’s 6-year-old Oedipus Complex.
Jim, staggered by his secret bad news, is off his game during one long march through the Magic Kingdom (and Epcot). He tries to make out a little with his shrill wife, Emily (Elena Schuber), on assorted tunnel rides and gets only a “Not in front of the kids.”
The parents separate, alternate taking the two kids (Katelynn Rodriguez is Sara, even younger than Elliott) onto rides and into lines. But Jim just grows more distracted by the two fetching teen French sirens in short shorts, ogling them from one side of the park to the other.
He’s drinking, and he’s hallucinating through awkward encounters from menacing park visitors to a weeping, paranoid nurse in the park’s infirmary, to “the Other Woman” (Alison Lees-Taylor), a seriously over-ripe seductress who uses her kid, and his, as a way of scoring a little Magic Kingdom nookie. Before it’s all over, Jim will be convinced of evil manipulations, a vast conspiracy that Disney seemingly knows nothing about. And we’ll never look at Spaceship Earth the same again.
The humor spins out of very real situations — dragging a motion-sickness prone kid onto Space Mountain (vomit time) — twisted into surreal fever dreams.
Escape has a notoriety that tends to overshadow its cinematic virtues. Writer-director Randy Moore shot it without permits and without Disney permission. He smuggled cast and crew onto monorails, onto Thunder Mountain and other rides, into a Contemporary Resort hotel room, sometimes capturing scenes live on tape, sometimes shooting generic video cover footage that his actors could be inserted into using green screen trickery. It has its amateurish touches, but this is not a shaky-cam cheapie, but a scripted, well-photographed monochromatic nightmare.
This ingenious take on the family “dream vacation” is the ultimate guerrilla film — a piece of brand-name American iconography (Disney disclaimers open and close it), ripe for satire, satirized on the sly. You’d have to go back to the ’60s (The President’s Analyst, where the villains are “The Phone Company”) to find its antecedents.
It doesn’t always work, but when it does, Escape From Tomorrow is so cosmically cracked that it feels like home movies of a Disney World trip — the home movies playing in your overheated, Heineken-altered mind after one nightmarish day in the park that made Orlando (in)famous.
Exclusive: Texas Theatre, Dallas