Escape from Tomorrow is worse than bad: it's a soul-crushing disappointment. This film grew from the kind of idea that is only going to work one time - shooting an entire feature film, surreptitiously, on the property of Walt Disney Company theme parks - and it's goddamn criminal that the best thing that writer-director Randy Moore could make out of this ballsy and even radical notion was a threadbare David Cronenberg knockoff anchored by a screechy family drama in which any meaningful insights are drowned out by the noise of the some relentlessly terrible acting even by the standards of micro-budget on-the-fly independent filmmaking.

The film depicts the final day of a Disney vacation for the most generic possible family: dad Jim (Roy Abramsohn), mom Emily (Elena Schuber), 6-years-or-thereabouts son Elliot (Jack Dalton), and 4-or-so daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez). It begins the worst way possible for Jim, who receives a barbarically passive-aggressive firing from his boss, right before Elliot locks him out on the balcony of their hotel over looking the Magic Kingdom; things get worse from here. Before the very long day is out, Jim will have begun hallucinating demonic figurines on the it's a small world ride (hallucinating, or seeing things as they really are?), hearing rumors of a strange "cat flu" running rampant through the park and attempted to combat the inevitability of his shrill, shrieking family by chasing a pair of nubile French teen girls from place to place.

Presumably, this is meant to be a great searing indictment of Disney's theme parks, or the edifice of American vacation culture, or nuclear families, or whatever the hell. Practically, it's the kind of film that only has anything real to say if you already agree completely with its precepts and can connect all the dots and fill in the blanks that the film itself leaves empty. And even then, there's plenty of reason to find the whole thing too dubious for words. Most urgently, Jim is a completely failed protagonist: no kind of remotely effective satire would start by hanging the Everyman sign on a character whose entire arc kicks off because he can't keep his eyes off of a modestly-dressed 15-year-old girl, and if Moore's argument is that Walt Disney World is a difficult place for ephebophiles, he's probably right; also, why build an entire feature film to further that argument.

The fact is, there's a potentially great scenario right inside Escape from Tomorrow: a man with a not-terribly-happy marriage and kids he finds kind of annoying finds out that he's been fired right before heading out into a park where everything costs a fucking shit-ton of money, and being cheerful and untroubled is a job requirement of each and every tourist. Boom, there's your movie. A great fucking movie. A movie that, potentially, genuinely investigates the corporatisation of happiness and the presentation of totally artificially physical realities as normal. A movie that doesn't rely on the mildewy, self-consciously controversial sexual perversion that animates so much of Escape from Tomorrow, or the bargain-basement surrealism that aspires to David Lynch and misses out badly. The deeper into the plot the film goes, the more it becomes clear that there aren't any real ideas behind it; just ineffective stabs at psychological horror given a little extra oomph given that they're positioned against the backdrop of the world's most famous tourist trap. That's a fine idea - I have for some time maintained that the film I'd like to see set at a Disney theme park would have to be an R-rated murder mystery - but it's executed without any kind of inspiration or even really any skill here. I'm impressed that Moore and director of photography Lucas Lee Graham figured out a way to capture the footage that they did, but there's a lot of overlighting and the use of glossy black-and-white is clearly a stopgap measure designed to cover up sins in the footage, not an aesthetic choice that pays off terrible well. Basically, once you get past the novelty of seeing recognisable Disney landmarks as the backdrop for a slightly kinky exploration of one man's not very interesting psychosis - for me, that point hit about 12 minutes in, following the admittedly very awesome it's a small world sequence - the film has absolutely nothing else to offer.

Compounding all of its other sins, the acting is abysmal throughout: Schuber is the easy worst in show, presenting a caricatured harpy of marital discord that becomes impossible to watch long before we come across our first French teen slut or explosion of blood or deranged canted angle pointed at a big goofy animal. But there's not a single reasonable performance in the entire feature, from any of the leads (we do not expect child actors to be terribly convincing, but Christ, is Dalton ever chomping on his lines), nor from any of the side characters present for just a scene or two (one of them trotting out a gloriously campy French/German accent that seems to be the only point at which the movie seems to realise that there are other ways for it to be successfully over-the-top than the ones it has elected to pursue).

It's absolutely easy to respect what the film is, as an object: shooting it must have been a hell of a problem to solve (and a fun one, I bet, or I don't know from filmmakers), and the fact that it cuts together at all is a legitimate triumph, whatever problems of fuzzy sound, bad greenscreen, and washed-out exteriors all but inevitably crop up along the way. And this no doubt explains much of the problem with the acting, too. Simply existing isn't enough, though - something, anything has to be done with that, and Escape from Tomorrow is too much a titanic failure of drama and imagery to use its once-in-a-lifetime setting to any remotely interesting ends. Disney's failure to sue the filmmakers is entirely reasonable, not for ethical or legal reasons, but because it's in their best interest not to give the film free publicity: this is too fucking boring to survive without the added boost of controversy. Nothing this potentially dangerous should be this tedious to sit through.