Fantasy Island, 2020.
Directed by Jeff Wadlow.
Starring Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, and Michael Rooker.
The enigmatic Mr. Roarke makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort, but when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.
Hollywood’s obsession with repackaging our childhoods – or, as the case may be, the childhoods of our parents – continues in most baffling fashion with Fantasy Island, an attempt to reboot the classic fantasy drama TV series as a low-budget horror joint under the Blumhouse label.
Yet honestly, far less-inspired ideas have actually worked, and so were this film not mounted by the same writer-director team behind 2018’s execrable Final Destination-for-tweens romp Truth or Dare, there’s a fair chance it could’ve at least been compellingly left-field. As it stands, Fantasy Island is a deeply inane, cynically sanitised “horror” that fundamentally does not work.
The plot is simple; five people win a contest to visit the titular island, a resort where fantasies apparently come true courtesy of the island’s mysterious keeper, Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña). But as each of the vacationers experiences their fantasy coming to life, they inevitably end up encountering far more than they bargained for.
Again, none of this is an inherently bad idea for a movie, and so the problems rest largely with the script from Chris Roach, Jillian Jacobs, and director Jeff Wadlow, which quickly reveals itself to be impressively idiotic, logic-free, and frequently cringe-worthy.
Rather than establish a series of rules the audience can quickly digest before the ride begins, this is far more of a “throw everything at the wall” affair, with the prevailing supernatural non-logic fluid to the point of frustration. Presumably, this is in the stead of distracting viewers from guessing any of the several silly plot twists lying in wait, which at least have the decency to muster a good laugh – yet never a good thrill.
Intentional laughs are sadly much harder to come by; the script is filled to the brim with painfully embarrassing one-liners, because though goofball brothers Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D. (Ryan Hansen) are really the only somewhat likeable characters here – returning Truth or Dare star Lucy Hale is a grating bust as protagonist Melanie – their bro-tastic banter still wears thin rather quickly.
This underlines the film’s biggest creative issue, that it’s conceived for entirely the wrong audience; like Truth or Dare, it takes an amusing concept and planes away all the mature promise in favour of a generic PG-13 horror movie, completely bereft of the gonzo gore that might’ve elevated the braindead script.
It’s therefore too tame to work as a horror, yet not funny enough to function as a comedy. Instead, this is an endlessly convoluted thriller for the teen set that’s probably better-acted than it deserves to be – beyond a surprisingly somnambulant Peña, that is. The easy hammy highlight, however, has to be a swinging-for-the-rafters villainous performance from the great Kim Coates as the improbably-monikered drug cartel honcho Devil Face.
Blumhouse certainly has a production formula that works, and they knew what they were doing by executing this for a mere $7 million. With its beauteous island setting – shot in Fiji – and fairly sizeable ensemble cast, it certainly looks far more expensive than it is, though this is no doubt aided by the film’s desperately fragmented narrative structure.
The middle portion of the movie sends most of the main cast off on their own delineated fantasy excursions, requiring only a couple of actors and a location or two at any one time, rather than having the cast gathered together for more combined shooting days. Sadly no amount of cross-cutting between these “suspense” sequences, however, can paper over how utterly unimaginatively perfunctory they all play as.
At dangerously close to two hours in length, Fantasy Island isn’t the breezy, self-aware schlock it could’ve been. There are a few neat ideas buried deep within the messy end result, yet the film as written is such a sloppy melange of low-effort nonsense – a first draft script if there ever was one – that it’s mostly just a groaner to pass in front of your eyeballs.
Hardly the worst idea for rebooting a classic TV series, but ultimately executed in manners both tediously episodic and spectacularly stupid.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.