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Originally published Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 3:06 PM

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‘Escape from Tomorrow’: The theme of this park is terror

“The Happiest Place on Earth” becomes a nightmare of grotesqueries in “Escape from Tomorrow.”

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘Escape from Tomorrow,’ with Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru. Written and directed by Randy Moore. 90 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexuality, strong language and frightening sequences). Sundance Cinemas.

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A family trip to a theme park becomes a descent into madness in Randy Moore’s thoroughly unsettling “Escape from Tomorrow,” filmed as a black-and-white nightmare. Shot without permission at Disneyland and Disney World (note that a different song is dubbed in for the “It’s a Small World” ride), it focuses on what is, on the surface, a perfectly normal-looking family: father Jim (Roy Abramsohn), mom Emily (Elena Schuber) and grade-school-age kids Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez) and Elliot (Jack Dalton). On the first morning of their Disney holiday, Jim is awakened at the hotel with some bad news: His boss called, to say that Jim’s lost his job.

It’s not exactly the right state of mind with which to enter the Magic Kingdom, but off the family goes, taking in the rides, the food, the costumed characters and the crowds. But things soon become, through Jim’s eyes, weirdly sinister: Those “Small World” dolls turn devilish; children’s faces become snarling masks; his wife turns on him; a stranger seems threatening; and an epidemic of “cat flu” (which involves, among other things, humans coughing up hairballs) is rumored. Jim develops an obsession with a pair of beautiful teenage French girls; in trying to follow them, harrowing misadventures and grotesque injuries occur. (I’m using careful language here because, really, some moments in this movie could really put you off your lunch.)

“Escape from Tomorrow” eventually runs out of ideas; spiraling into an ending that feels abrupt and unsatisfying. Aside from the outlaw aspects of the filming, it’s never quite as interesting as you want it to be. But who knew that the Happiest Place on Earth could be so convincingly cast as a shadowy fever dream? Long before the movie’s over, you want out of this scary place, like Jim; wall-to-wall smiles never seemed so terrifying.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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