Fantasy Island, the late ’70s/early ’80s TV series that made the catchphrase “The plane! The plane!” wildly popular, heads to the big screen thanks to the fright masters at Blumhouse. As is their want, Blumhouse has warped the show into a horror movie – a move that’s not entirely unprecedented. The original show had plenty of supernatural elements – there was even an episode featuring the Devil. And the old adage of “be careful what you wish for” has been exploited time and time again for scary purposes, from W. W. Jacobs’s classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw” to the Wishmaster and Leprachaun film franchises.
But a bargain-basement Wishmaster sequel is high-art when compared to what director Jeff Wadlow and company have cooked-up here.
After winning a contest, several strangers end up on the fantabulous Fantasy Island, a photo-ready locale with beautiful beaches and big-ass bungalows, all run by the mysterious Mr. Roarke, played by a subdued, possibly sedated Michael Peña – the charming, typically wonderful actor seems just as bored to be in this movie as we are watching it. Roarke promises his guests that all of their fantasies will come true, no matter how impossible they seem. Hard-drinking Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge against a girl who bullied her in high school. Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be a soldier. Gwen (Maggie Q) wants a second chance with her ex, whom she’s still in love with. And brothers (and painfully unfunny comic relief characters) JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want to…uh…party a lot, I guess? It’s unclear, but their fantasy ends up involving sex and weed, and scenes where they talk endlessly about sex and weed.
Roarke, and the island, grant all of these wishes, but of course, they come at a terrible price (cue the ominous music). Melanie’s revenge involves Hostel-like torture. Patrick’s war fantasy turns into something both dangerous and painfully personal. Gwen’s wish actually turns out pretty well, all things considered, but she’s still unhappy. And JD and Brax end up being threatened by drug dealers wearing Dark Knight-style clown masks. Why are these characters wearing masks? No reason, other than someone, somewhere, said, “Hey, that might look cool.” It doesn’t.
All things considered, this isn’t a terrible set-up for a scary movie, but Fantasy Island is so nonchalant, so lifeless, and so lethargic that nothing here lands. The comedy isn’t funny, the horror isn’t scary, and the twists aren’t the least bit surprising. It doesn’t help that Wadlow’s direction is painfully casual, bordering on incompetent. At one point, the director frames a shot with an extremely out-of-focus blade in the foreground and someone’s terrified face in the background. Was Wadlow going for a De Palma-style split diopter shot here, and unable to figure out how to make it work? Or is this shot really supposed to look like utter shit? You decide!
The script, but Wadlow, Chris Roach, and Jillian Jacobs, certainly doesn’t help matters. There are approximately fifty different scenes where something impossible happens, a character yells, “How is this possible?!”, and then Roarke pops his head in to say, “The island!” And, perhaps assuming its audience has no patience for reading, the film requires every character to read any text they see out-loud. Melanie finds a folded piece of paper with the words READ ME written on the front in huge, block letters – but rather than rely on a simple close-up, Fantasy Island forces Lucy Hale to then say, “Hmm, READ ME!” You know, just in case you missed it.
Not even the always-welcomed Michael Rooker, playing a scuzzy ass-kicker hiding out in the jungle, can elevate this dreck. Fantasy Island is a failure on nearly every level. No one goes into a title like this expect brilliance, but even by the thinnest definition of “entertainment”, Fantasy Island doesn’t past muster. Is there anything worth recommending here? Uh…some of the shots of the island – which was shot on Fiji – look pretty, I suppose? We’re in the midst of winter right now, so perhaps seeing some sunny, sandy beaches and tropical foliage might help lessen your seasonal affective disorder. Beyond that, Fantasy Island is a getaway that you should probably get far, far away from. By the time the movie ended, I had a fantasy of my own: A full refund.
/Film Rating: 1 out of 10
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