Prior to its debut Friday, details about The Sundance film "Escape From Tomorrow" were under wraps. Even the film's publicist was mum about the plot. "Just make sure you see it," he said.

The film was so hush-hush that there was even a smattering of empty seats at its first screening in the Sundance Film Festival's off-off mainstream NEXT category, even though Sundance Film Festival Programming Director Trevor Groth had repeatedly highlighted it during pre-festival press interviews.

But with some L.A. film critics already referring to "Escape From Tomorrow" as a "cult hit," it is doubtful there will be any spare tickets for the rest of the week.

"Escape" is a terrifying misadventure filmed, for the most part "guerilla-style" (according to director Randy Moore) at a world-famous theme park that shall remain unnamed in this review -- in the hopes that by staying under Google's radar, the park's lawyers won't file an injunction before the festival is over.

Let's just say that watching Moore's noir tale is like being super-glued to your seat while getting poked in the eye. It is both fascinating and repelling.

Shot in black and white and painstakingly rendered onto 35mm film, "Escape" sinks its hook even before the first title frame.

But there is something spooky going on as a seemingly typical family plunges on a roller coaster through a strangely familiar landscape: complete with mouse-ears, a magic castle, princesses and a giant metallic globe-shaped pavilion. Yep, that park.

As the story begins, the family is setting out to make the most of their last day of vacation. Before they leave the hotel, though, the dad, played by Roy Abramsohn, takes a phone call from his office and learns that he has been fired. He decides not to share the information with his wife so they can, hopefully, enjoy one last carefree day. In the meantime, his subtly demonic son intentionally locks him out of the room.

Dad's day deteriorates from there and the gap between the park's artificial gaiety and his despair widens.

As the hours wear on, tensions mount in an uncomfortably familiar way. Mom and dad begin to crack under the pressure of trying to have a perfect day, the kids are over-stimulated the lines for the rides are long, other tourists are getting pushy and even the princesses seem hostile.

By midday, Dad's depression is morphing into madness, his son's hostility is becoming more overt, his wife's psyche begins to fray and his daughter wanders out of sight.

There is also an overlay of dangerous sexual tension as dad becomes infatuated with a pair of long-legged, vampy teenager girls.

The audience watches as Dad's emotional seams begin to split, the park's attractions turn into a twisted funhouse and the princesses become middle-aged tramps.

In the Q&A following the premiere, Moore, who both wrote and directed the film, admitted that his memories of visiting the park during his own childhood were fraught with conflicting emotions. "And, obviously I have a lot of father issues," he added.

Several incredulous fellow filmmakers in the audience asked Moore how he pulled off shooting the scenes inside the park. It wasn't easy, he explained describing a complex system of shooting and recording on small handheld devices.

No doubt he and a number of Sundance staffers are now waiting uneasily to see how that news goes down in the magic kingdom. "Escape From Tomorrow" screens:

  • Saturday, Jan. 19, 11:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre
  • Sunday, Jan. 20, 12:45 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema, Salt Lake City
  • Thursday, Jan. 24, 5:30 p.m., Library Center Theatre
  • Saturday, Jan. 26, 3 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema, Salt Lake City