Shot without permits at Disney World, “Escape From Tomorrow” is a sneakily subversive exercise in low-budget surrealism and anti-corporate satire. Portraying the preeminent family fun park as a toxic treat that one regurgitates only if he’s lucky, writer-director Randy Moore’s debut feature comes on like a queasy-making “Carnival of Souls” for the Occupy era, its stylistic flaws seeming wholly forgivable in the context of David’s sidesplitting poke at Goliath. The Mouse House couldn’t possibly appreciate the joke, which is to say that, while “Tomorrow” may well prove unreleasable, its cult status will remain immortal.Moore’s ingenious decision to shoot in black-and-white not only strips the Magic Kingdom of vitality from the get-go, but gives the pic an unmistakable kinship to ’50s and ’60s B-movie horror. Equal parts victim and villain, the man of “Tomorrow,” Jim White (Roy Abramsohn), is a pudgy, horny, jobless shlub who, strolling the park with his wife (Elena Schuber) and kids (Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton), leers at teenage girls and drinks like a lush. To him, the Epcot Center globe resembles a “giant testicle,” and his son’s obsession with the Buzz Lightyear ride is a burden. Mr. White may be a creep, fixated on the sight of French girls (Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru) sharing a banana, yet it’s hard to say he deserves the waking nightmare that ensues. At first, his warped funhouse hallucinations seem attributable merely to sunstroke and too much time on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. But that doesn’t explain the middle-aged sexpot (Alison Lees-Taylor) who seduces Jim with the help of her trippy heirloom pendant. Plus, there’s a mysterious “cat flu” going around, and eventually the hapless patriarch is abducted as part of the Siemens corporation’s nefarious experiments in mind control. Amazingly, “Escape From Tomorrow” steers clear of full-on camp, its vision of Americana’s underbelly being enjoyably ridiculous but also brazenly unwholesome and disturbing. Lucas Lee Graham’s luminous cinematography manages to put the viewer in a trance, despite the fact that the d.p. must have needed to keep the camera hidden for much of the shoot. (Gap-filling rear-projection work is digitally enabled, but looks like it could have been done 50 years ago.) Editing by Soojin Chung could be tighter on the whole, an impression furthered by the film’s ineffective “intermission” past the one-hour mark. The sound design is unsettling, while Abel Korzeniowski’s drippy, string-heavy score suitably channels both elevator Muzak and the spirit of ’50s Hollywood.
A Mankurt Media presentation, in association with Soojin Chung, of a Gioia Marchese production. Produced by Marchese. Directed, written by Randy Moore.
Camera (B&W, HD), Lucas Lee Graham; editor, Soojin Chung; music, Abel Korzeniowski; production designers, Sean Kaysen, Lawrence Kim; art directors, Arne Knudsen, Katie Wheelock; set decorator, Alma Gamino; costume designer, Gara Gambucci; sound (Dolby Digital), Sam Hamer, Jerry Wolfe; supervising sound editors, Paul Andre Fonarev, David Lankton; re-recording mixers, Paul Ratajczak, Mark Ettel; visual effects supervisors, Bruce Heller, Ryu Jaehwan; visual effects, 4th Creative Party; stunt coordinator, Mark Ginther; associate producer, Chung; assistant director, John David Denison; casting, Gioia Marchese. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 103 MIN.
Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru, Alison Lees-Taylor, Lee Armstrong, Amy Lucas, Stass Klassen.