At this year's Sundance Film Festival, Escape from Tomorrow was a much-talked-about hot ticket. The movie wasn't expected to see the light of day once the festival ended; it was filmed without permission on the grounds of Walt Disney World, which comes out looking less like the happiest place on Earth and more like a temple of debauchery, horror and gigantic turkey legs.
Surprisingly, the movie is getting the full limited-release/VOD treatment as the Mouse Factory has basically decided to ignore it. Shot in stark-yet-stylish black-and-white, Escape from Tomorrow follows around a middle-aged guy (Roy Abramsohn, looking doughy and defeated) and his family, which consists of a nagging wife (Elena Schuber) and disrespectful kids (Katelynn Rodriguez and Jack Dalton), as they spend their final day at the Florida amusement mecca. After waking up to news that he just got fired, our protagonist spends much of the movie drunk out of his mind, stalking a couple of teenage French girls and hallucinating to the point where you wonder if he dropped a whole sheet of acid.
As much as writer-director Randy Moore shows off some skills as a guerilla filmmaker (never has a gonzo film production looked so sophisticated), the movie half-succeeds at being the mischievous freakout it so wants to be. By placing his lead character in not only a beloved-but-suspicious setting but also a beloved-but-suspicious life (the movie sometimes feel like a cinematic adaptation of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime," with Abramsohn's dazed-and-confused dad at one point trying to let the water hold him down as he plays dead in a swimming pool), Moore wants his film to be both a surreal satire and a delirious, deranged take on middle-aged disillusionment.
But the movie's mix of ambition and absurdity—which gives off a more-silly-than-savage tone—makes the film lose its grip, becoming one of those cult movies you end up admiring for its effort rather than raving to your friends at how batshit-insane it is. Besides, nothing in this flick tops the unsettling opening-credits sequence, which literally takes us on a rollercoaster ride through Disney's wonderful world before hitting us with a startling, where-the-hell-did-that-come-from jolt, letting viewers know of the twistedness that'll be popping off.
Escape from Tomorrow often makes good on its aspiration to stick it to the man in the mouse suit, but let's not get carried away: Miley Cyrus is currently doing just that to much greater effect.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Small worlds after all."