Back in the 70s, Gene Levitt created the hit comedy series, Fantasy Island, which starred Ricardo Montalban and ran for almost a decade. In it, visitors arrive from all over and are granted their deepest fantasies that never go as expected. For fans of the show, a feature film adaptation may have sounded like their own fantasy come true, but, as is the theme of Fantasy Island, what starts as a dream can quickly become a nightmare…
…Taking what was once a comedy adventure and sprinkling in a dash of teen-pop horror, director Jeff Wadlow (Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare) brings us an updated version of Fantasy Island that will have some who wished for it screaming “no, not like this!” Written by Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach (both of whom also worked on Truth or Dare), Fantasy Island follows the same premise as the show, but with a horrific twist. In this version of Fantasy Island, your fantasies can and are trying to kill you.
After a rather suspense-less chase through the island with Sonja (Portia Doubleday), we’re immediately introduced to our cast as they arrive at the breathtaking island, having won some contest or such (that part is never elaborated on, as is much of Fantasy Island). Melanie (Lucy Hale), Elena (Maggie Q), Randall (Austin Stowell) and step-brother dude bros Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) all meet Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena), the mysterious owner of the island. Before we know it, our characters are rushed off to their fantasies, barely get to introduce themselves, and spend roughly the next ninety minutes separated from one another. But don’t worry, we still get to know them well, because they all remind us throughout the film why each of them is on the island…A LOT.
The cast list is actually a pretty good one, including an underused Michael Rooker in the standard “crazy guy who knows the dark secret of the island” role, and everyone is doing their best with what they have, especially Pena, who stands out in a more serious part for him. At one point, Brax states that he has “two layers”, but I would argue that that’s giving himself and the rest of the characters too much credit. These are pretty boring people, with unimaginative fantasies that boil down to things like sex, wanting a family, etc. What I want to know is, where’s the fantasy where someone wants to ride a T-rex or punch zombie Hitler through the face? Yes, I said THROUGH the face!
Basic fantasies like wanting to be a soldier might be okay, if they weren’t CONSTANTLY INTERRUPTED during the most provocative moments. Fantasy Island plays out like a pseudo anthology film, with four “fantasies” all playing out at once. Instead of flowing smoothly though, such as similar flicks like Trick ‘r Treat, Fantasy Island flows like scummy water through a drain pipe clogged with the bones of the original show. The film hops around so much, it’s easy to lose track of time and place, and consistently kills the flow of each “story”. It’s the sort of painfully noticeable editing that makes it feel as if one character has been walking down a hallway for hours, because that’s where we last left them oh so long ago.
Occasionally, I wished a character WOULD walk down a hallway for an hour, because Fantasy Island, despite taking longer to develop than a hurricane, moves at such a frenetic speed that it’s as if it’s afraid to do anything as simple as set a mood. The film seems to know it isn’t working, and figures if it moves quickly, we won’t notice the flaws. I noticed. Poor Bear McCreary’s otherwise great score is even used to obnoxious effect, booming and screaming over anything and everything to try to encourage some excitement that just isn’t there, no matter how hard it tries.
And if you’re hoping that the horror in the film is at least effective, keep fantasizing. Fantasy Island is as imaginative as the simplistic dreams of its characters, pulling out nothing but the usual “there one second and gone the next” tricks. I lost count of how many times a shadowy figure walked by the screen, or appeared and disappeared into thin air. For being a place that can conjure up anything, Fantasy Island fails to manifest any atmosphere or legitimately unnerving moments. And that PG-13 rating is to a point where I began to wonder if people just don’t bleed on Fantasy Island, until they do, but not really.
Speaking of that final act, if Fantasy Island is effective in anything, it’s stretching its viewers faces into a frozen stare of utter perplexity. I don’t do spoilers, but if I did, we’d be here all day with me attempting in vain to try to explain any of the various convoluted plot points and twists that just don’t add up no matter how you stack them. But hey, on Fantasy Island, anything is possible! Right…?
Fantasy Island is good for a few laughs (intentional or not), and the scenery is gorgeous, but this story sinks under a poorly conceived plot, head-scratching twists and turns and a whirlwind pace that somehow feels slow and leaves the film long overstaying its welcome at just under two hours. As Michael Rooker’s character might say, “this island aint what you think it is. If you know what’s good for ya, you’ll get back on that plane and leave.”
And you know that when the babbling harbinger guy speaks, you should listen.
Fantasy Island is now playing in theaters.
By Matt Konopka