“Fantasy Island” originated as a television series that ran from 1977 until 1984 lasting seven seasons and focusing on visitors to a mysterious island where they could experience their fantasies for a price. It was a borderline iconic drama that spawned memorable catchphrases and characters and even an attempted revival in 1998. Over 25 years after the original series left the airwaves Blumhouse, one of the most active horror studios in the business, decided, you know what let’s make that into a movie but make it scary! The idea isn’t actually that outrageous given that throughout the show’s history a recurring theme is that the visitors’ fantasies often forced them into moral conundrums and, at times, even put their lives at risks basically employing a literal interpretation of “be careful what you wish for”. So, seeing people thrown into nightmare scenarios based on fantasies they think would change their lives seems like a fun idea. But with an idea that promising it’s all about the execution and “Fantasy Island” definitely had the promise of being a decent film in the right hands. Let’s see if this film is the good campy horror fun it’s concept promised or a complete letdown. Here is my review of “Fantasy Island”.
“Fantasy Island” focuses on a group of individuals who are flown to the titular island where they meet the caretaker Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) and his assistant Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) who inform them that the island will allow them each to experience one fantasy which they must see through to the end. The guests, Gwen (Maggie Q), Melanie (Lucy Hale), Patrick (Austin Stowell), and brothers Brax and J.D. (Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen) soon experience their fantasies first hand finding themselves trapped in corrupted versions of their deepest wishes which become life-or-death scenarios. On paper that sounds like a lot of fun, but in execution “Fantasy Island” is more than a little off. I won’t sit here and say I didn’t have fun with this movie, but I only enjoyed it after I allowed myself to tolerate the inevitable mess I was in store for. Remember, fun doesn’t mean good and “Fantasy Island” is a perfect example of that.
First off, I would have loved to see this movie rated R allowing for a setup that would have opened the door for more brutality and genuine consequences for its characters and allowed the filmmakers room to better explore the potential of a story that sees fantasies gone awry. As it is this nearly bloodless PG-13 version feels way to constrained and simple with fun horrific ideas that never reach their full potential. Even the symbolism behind the ideas, a play on the moral conundrums included with the original show’s fantasies, aren’t that fully realized and there’s a lot of bending of the rules in order to make the plot work especially when the screenwriters write themselves into a corner. It’s all capped off by an admittedly unexpected twist but the sleight of hand unravels with even the most basic thinking especially when you realize how the true villain’s actions throughout the film make no sense after the revelation. This whole movie screams of good intentions and fun ideas watered down by lackluster writing and an unwillingness to escape the limitations and over-simplicity of a more marketable PG-13 rating.
Some of the cast members do their best with what they have. Maggie Q to me is a highlight serving as the heart of the film and the most complex character while Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen, who also played opposite each other in this year’s “Like a Boss” which I did not see, add some effective comedic flair to the mix and have great chemistry. Otherwise though Michael Peña feels only somewhat invested as the island’s caretaker Mr. Roarke, Lucy Hale never finds her footing even though she’s positioned to be one of the film’s most important characters, and other secondary characters feel like adds-ons. While I wouldn’t necessary call all of these performances bad or career killers none of them are anything worth putting on these actors’ resumes. Even at their best they’re pretty dull and lifeless, which is a statement that could describe this whole movie in fact.
As with numerous horror movies to start of 2020, “Fantasy Island” also commits the sin of just not being very scary. Honestly the most frightening part of it is a mysterious murderous surgeon who serves as one of several fantasy-based villains and seems much too easy to outsmart to really cash in on his imposing look and stature. Honestly there really isn’t anything truly frightening about this movie. No real jump scares, no true moments of tension…nothing to help it stand out in the genre especially by today’s standards. Even if you look at it as more of a mystery thriller or a fantasy flick there’s little to no meat on its bones to help it make an impact. I already stated how the big twist is massively convoluted which makes the mystery pretty unsatisfying if you take more than a few minutes to examine the journey from point A to point B. While I indeed found myself embracing this film it was mostly because I brought my mom to watch it with me at a fancy Daytona movie theater and just wanted to enjoy a movie without thinking too hard about it and it’s really not worth anyone’s time beyond that…a mindless hour and a half to just enjoy a movie.
The horror genre has really gotten off on the wrong foot in 2020 and I hope the trend swings upward soon because “Fantasy Island” is just the latest in a string of failures this genre has offered in the first two months of the year. It’s dull and criminally unimaginative for a concept about nightmarish fantasies with performances that barely entertain and minimal horror thanks mostly to its subdued PG-13 rating and lack of creative or coherent writing. The idea of turning “Fantasy Island” into a horror movie wasn’t a bad one and it had a lot of potential, but the final product does not reflect that at all. I’m not sorry I saw it just to see it, but it’s really hard for me to recommend it if you have any other option. It’s a forgettable mess that only leaves me fantasizing for the day sometime soon when the more sophisticated horror of the 2010s will finally return to the big screen in 2020.