Synopsis – A horror adaptation of the popular ’70s TV show about a magical island resort.
My Take – Honestly, until the announcement of this film and the arrival of 2018’s My Dinner with Hervé, an HBO film starring Peter Dinklage, I had never heard about the fantasy-drama series, which is best remembered for a dapper white-suited Latino man standing next to an excitable midget shouting out for planes. Mainly as it was before my time, running 1977 to 1984.
But with Blumhouse backing the project, and Jeff Wadlow helming it, whose last film the 2018 supernatural horror ‘Truth or Dare’ made a lot of money ($95.3 million on a $3.5 million budget), a horror reboot of its concept sounded like an inspired idea. With the general assumption that it would be adding a level of gore, terror, and suspense to the fantasies of the guests visiting the titular remote vacation resort.
While the promotional material touted the film to be a cross between Westworld and The Cabin in the Woods, with a little bit of Lost thrown in for good measure, unfortunately, the film fails to capture any of the elements that made those works uniquely appealing, and the result is a muddled mishmash of tired tropes and yawn-inducing plot twists you can see coming from miles away.
The film is nothing but an onslaught of inept sequences that are only connected by a terribly thin thread. When it’s not dull and lazy, it’s laughable and ridiculous. The script thinks it’s being clever and adds some various levels of intrigue but in reality it is piling on layers of nonsense that just aren’t as smart or applause worthy as it thinks it is.
The story follows five guests, namely Melanie (Lucy Hale), Gwen (Maggie Q), Patrick (Austin Stowell), Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), and JD (Ryan Hansen), who arrive at Fantasy Island, a special resort run by the enigmatic Mr. Rourke (Michael Peña), in order to live out their pre-decided fantasies for the next two days. In Gwen’s fantasy she is given a chance to rectify her mistake of refusing a marriage proposal from the man she loved five years ago, and Patrick’s fantasy involves him enlisting in the army like his dead father and play out a mission.
While step brothers, Brax and JD’s fantasy simply involves them having a huge party involving booze, drugs, and models, Melanie seeks out the most twisted one from all. All she wants to do is take revenge on Sloane (Portia Doubleday), her high school bully and watch her suffer.
At first believing Sloane to be hologram, Melanie relishes in the torture, however when she realizes that the pain inflicted is real, Melanie begins to doubt the true intentions of Mr. Rourke and his management. Soon enough, the fantasies of the remaining guests too begin to turn into nightmares as the mysterious power inside Fantasy Island begins to play its own games with them.
The film’s biggest blunder is that the script by Wadlow and co-writers Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach has no clear sense of direction. It’s a shame, because the raw material and basic premise hold promise. Perhaps, because the original series was episodic and had the space to be everything from broad slapstick to a full-blown supernatural thriller. But for a film running for 109-minutes, it is difficult to cram all those elements in, plus a sub-Saw torture sequence, leaving it overstuffed and tonally chaotic. And most importantly, it becomes hard to be emotionally invested in their fates.
To make matters worse, the film adds an origin story for Roarke, which I believe from what I have read about the show is left ambiguous, and add a MacGuffin explaining the power of the island, with ultimately unsatisfying results.
The confusion becomes especially pronounced as the film heads into its home stretch, where the fright factor becomes more pronounced and the true purpose of the perversion of the fantasies comes to light. The last third of the film is a frenetic mess, with predictable twists shoehorned into an already confusing script, with little apparent thought as to whether those turns make sense for the characters.
Seriously, the truth behind the whole process requires a head-spinning series of revelations, reversals and exposition, during which the film loses track of its own story more than once. There is also so much that is never explained, like why the employees of the island seem to be zombies with black goo oozing out of their eyes when they are killed. And why does a ghost keep popping up throughout the film?, an element which seemed to be added because director Jeff Wadlow probably thought it cool to fulfill his fantasy, which unlike his fun previous film, doesn’t seem fully realized here.
Performance wise, Maggie Q deserves kudos for imbuing a criminally underwritten role with so much intelligence and thoughtful regret. Lucy Hale shines with her go-getter attitude and snarky comebacks. Austin Stowell doesn’t quite fit the part right but delivers a decent performance anyway. Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen bring in the laughs with their ‘goofy brothers ‘act and have some of the best scenes in the film along with Kim Coates. Portia Doubleday, Parisa Fitz-Henley and Charlotte McKinney also make for a passable performances.
Michael Rooker also turns up, looking vaguely embarrassed by his silly supporting part. However, Michael Peña felt miscast as Mr. Roarke almost throughout the film. While he attempts an aura of suave menace, he’s further hamstrung by a script that can’t seem to decide whether or not he’s a villain. On the whole, ‘Fantasy Island’ is an illogical and silly horror which despite a decent premise turns into one big unsatisfactory mess.
Directed – Jeff Wadlow
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 109 minutes