Blumhouse’s dark reimagining of the 1977-84 TV series Fantasy Island is not scary enough to succeed as a horror film and not funny enough to click as a comedy, both of which it attempts to be at various moments. It works marginally better as a mystery in the film’s latter half but it comes at the expense of over-explaining and completely demystifying the very premise of the titular island and its enigmatic overseer, which the original series wisely never did (to my best recollection).
The Fantasy Island movie hews closely to how episodes of the admittedly cheesy ABC series were structured. A group of guests arrives via seaplane to a remote tropical island where — somehow magically — their respective fantasies are realized… for a literal and figurative price. The resort’s mysterious host, Mr. Roarke (portrayed here by Michael Pena), explains the rules, the biggest being that once their fantasy begins it must be seen through to its ultimate conclusion whether they like the results or not. Like many episodes of the original show, there’s a morality play element at work here as several Life Lessons will be learned by the guests.
In this particular iteration of Fantasy Island, events turn deadly as the guests — played by Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, and Austin Stowell — see their fantasies progress and a deeper mystery (that may connect them) unfold. This intrigue in the latter half of the film may not be overly clever but it at least brings the story into sharper focus and lends this relatively plodding and predictable film a pulse when it needs it most. Until that point, the film meanders through the melodrama of Maggie Q’s relationship fantasy, the strained comedy of Yang and Hansen’s painfully unfunny bro characters, and the more visceral respective horror and action hero fantasies of Hale and Stowell’s characters. Of this group, Maggie Q gives the best performance, even if her arc is arguably the most predictable; she at least helps ground the movie in something real and relatable.
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=the-25-best-horror-movies&captions=true”]
A disheveled and underutilized Michael Rooker pops up as a desperate man out to expose the ugly truth about Fantasy Island and Mr. Roarke, who is a decidedly darker incarnation of the character than the iconic original version played by Ricardo Montalban. Unfortunately, Michael Pena is miscast as Mr. Roarke, a role that requires an actor with more gravitas to help sell the character’s innate mystery – at least until the film decides to reveal not only how Fantasy Island creates its fantasies but also provides a backstory for Roarke, robbing the film of any semblance of subtlety.
The film, directed in workman-like fashion by Kick-Ass 2’s Jeff Wadlow, makes Roarke complicit in the horrors and evils committed on the island, yet it still wants viewers to believe he’s redeemable and sympathetic. It’s a confounding choice that just might have worked with a stronger script and a more nuanced actor in the role. The film’s decision to show how the fantasies are created and what creates them and to also reveal Roarke’s backstory is not unlike finding out the Force is actually tied to midi-chlorian counts. Sometimes magic doesn’t need to be explained or justified, and not all mysteries need to be solved.
[ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2019/11/11/fantasy-island-official-trailer]
For a movie set in such a beautiful place, Fantasy Island often looks quite ugly. There’s a general shoddiness to the whole endeavor, as if it were a bland and cheap straight-to-video release from back in the day rather than a major studio film in 2020. The horror elements are low-fi, with crude makeup and lame visual effects inadvertently reminding viewers what a small budget the film must have been made on.
Fans of the old show — and let’s be honest, how many can there still be nowadays? — should catch the film’s references and Easter eggs (“The plane! The plane!” “Smiles, everyone, smiles.”) and they will almost certainly understand and have an opinion on how the film decides to address the origin of one of the show’s mainstay characters … but we’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say, it will likely prove a divisive choice to reveal how this particular character came to be.