Film Review: ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ can’t rise to witty premise with sloppy filmmaking

October 13, 2013

escape_from_tomorrow_poster-A witty premise informs the low budget black-and-white science fiction / corporate conspiracy thriller / family dramadey Escape From Tomorrow. A flawed— some might call them dysfunctional— family visits Disneyland for a vacation only to gradually learn something is not quite right in the phony, stagey land of blissful innocence. It’s too bad it feels like a badly acted, contrived, overly long “Twilight Zone” episode. The concept seems like rich fodder to lampoon the soul-numbing, drug-like experience of these escapist theme parks, which are so rich in hypocrisy. The effort to to make this film such a statement is there, but if only it had been better tempered and less self-aware.

The fact that director Randy Moore covertly shot the film at the real Disneyland in Anaheim, California and Disney World in Orlando, Florida adds to the film’s selling points. That it does not feel discreetly shot stands as testament to the filmmakers inventiveness. 868815-escape-from-tomorrowCreative shots throughout make one wonder how they actually got away with some of it, though sometimes it seems clearly shot against a blue screen. But the fact the viewer can feel so distracted from the story to look for these moments and wonder about the how they did that rather than invest in the characters speaks to the inherit weakness in the film-making.

The film follows husband and wife Jim (Roy Abramsohn) and Emily (Elena Schuber) who have brought their children Elliot (Jack Dalton) and Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) to the world-famous amusement park. The drama around the family feels grounded enough. Upon waking in a room at Disney’s famous Contemporary Hotel, pudgy, beat-down Jim takes a phone call from his boss out on the terrace. As he swigs a beer for breakfast, he learns he has been laid off. Elliot, in the meantime, locks him outside. And the malaise is set.

They ride the monorail to the Magic Kingdom where Jim first sets his ever-wandering eyes on two nubile French teens (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) who later seem to conveniently end up on all the rides the family tries to enjoy together. escape–from–tomorrow–3I say they “try” to enjoy the rides because there is decapitation and demons seemingly hiding in the shadows of the rides that Jim can’t seem to shake. He ends up exploring the cracks in this land of supposed happiness while struggling with petty family conflicts to unveil one conspiracy after another.

If only the film felt consistent and could balance the horror of revelations like Disney princesses who also accept propositions from wealthy Chinese businessmen with decent acting and a more compact script. A little subtlety could have gone a long way. For every witty revelation, there’s something like the migraine-inducing blown-out white-drenched scene at a pool that’s uncomfortable to look at for anyone who has seen a properly shot black and white film. Escape From Tomorrow just cannot seem to rise to its premise with sloppy filmmaking on too many levels.

Hans Morgenstern

Escape From Tomorrow runs 103 minutes and is not rated (the poster art should reveal that it’s not for kids, though fine for the further embittering of teens as they face adulthood). It opened in limited release across the U.S. this past Friday (see some screening dates). In South Florida, it’s now playing at O Cinema in Miami, Miami Beach Cinematheque and MDCulture Art Cinema at Koubek Theater in Miami. I was provided a preview screener for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

10 Responses to “Film Review: ‘Escape From Tomorrow’ can’t rise to witty premise with sloppy filmmaking”


  1. Disney actually tried to ban the movie from being released but probably realized it was going to create more bad publicity for the entertainment resorts if they were going forward with this battle. It is a daring and great idea to stop depicting these places like magical kingdoms.

    • Hans Says:

      Since the film’s release a countdown clock has appeared on its website awaiting a lawsuit. You’re right in noting any PR for the film, even negative by way of Disney, will only benefit the film more. It’s great to see that corporation criticized. There’s a long history of negative social repercussions of the heavily-marketed Disney brand. As I state in the review, the film has a great concept. It’s just a shame that the film falls into being over-the-top, not too different from the sugary world of Disney and then falters with reaching too hard and not focusing enough.


      • I have not seen the movie but you are certainly right. It must be too bad its director did not depict a more subtle satire of this too perfect Disney- Barbie kind of world.

  2. mbcinema Says:

    Hi Hans:
    There’s really no reason for the criticism or stylized craziness in this film to be subtle or more tasteful. It’s a nightmarish vision, and the amateur feeling of the on-the-fly acting, stolen camerawork, and awkward use of blue screens is all in keeping with the alternative point of view, and in that respect works well as a statement on Disney’s own highly controlled aesthetic. For years Disney’s live action films were filled with awkward uses of blue screens, so the wackiness there works on different levels, and even if not intentional, it is satisfying to see it as another stab at the empire and at the people who abuse the empire’s system. As for the washed out use of the black and white photography, this adds an expressionistic touch that is appropriate for a nightmare. The hot Disney sun is not all fun and games. And neither is this film.
    I wish you had seen this film with an audience at MBC, and I bet you would have been more relaxed about the shortcomings, since they were taken as part of the wild ride by most of the audience, which enjoyed themselves as if on a field trip to Disneyworld. Several audience members were happy to see the outrageousness expressed because they had already experienced a more subtle version of a similar nightmare. And seeing the film brought out those memories, including in myself…those at times pleasant but then creepy, off balance, washed out memories. All of the film’s production flubs and abrasiveness worked really well for me. It was like reliving an awkward dream. -DK

    • Hans Says:

      I think you give too much credit to the filmmaker. He over-stuffs himself with his message and too many tangents that the characters become cyphers with no redeemable qualities. By the end, I was not invested and wanted this movie to end already. If he can do a different kind of film that proves he’s no amateur, then I’ll buy your argument. Now, Sofia Coppola, on the other hand, knew how to handle trashy pop culture and keep my interest with her underrated Bling Ring.

  3. table9mutant Says:

    Thanks for commenting on my blog – you’ve reminded me that I meant to come back & comment on this one when I had more time. I’d not heard of this but I LOVE the concept! What a shame that it sounds like it wasn’t done very well & that they didn’t fully get the point across? Still, it’s one I’d love to check out. Thanks for the review! 🙂

    • Hans Says:

      If or when you see it, you’ll see what I mean. It’s a righteous message and quite in-your-face. It gets it point across. It just could have used subtlety and wit better.

  4. Reuben Says:

    I had a similar reaction to this film. It’s a novel concept but it lacks finesse in execution. He’s not successful in exploring his ideas. It doesn’t help that the production values and acting are distractingly shoddy. It may have started out as something interesting but it ended, as you stated, an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, or worse, one of those movies the MST3K folks rib.


  5. I was intrigued as well when I heard of the concept, but will probably just wait for it to catch my eye in the DVD section of my library someday. It would probably behoove Disney to lay off it.


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