Fantasy Island (2020) Review
A SHODDY REMAKE THAT DOESN’T WORK
Welcome to Fantasy Island” are the iconic words spoken by fictional character Mr. Roarke from the TV show Fantasy Island. Created by Gene Levitt, the show debuted on ABC television network from 1977 to 1984 and starred Ricardo Montalban as the mysterious and enigmatic Mr. Roarke and Herve Villechaize as his assistant, Tattoo. The show centered around an episodic format where each episode told its own story, with where guest (sometimes as celebrity acting talents of the era) would come to the island and Mr. Roarke would grant them their so-called “fantasies”, albeit for a price. Fantasy Island, which ran for seven seasons (152 episodes and 2 TV movies), become a popular hit with the brand name of Fantasy Island being iconic in pop culture; often times parody in a variety of mediums. In 1998, the show was revived for a new generation, with actor Malcolm McDowell playing the role of Mr. Roarke. However, 1998’s Fantasy Island was rather short-lived; only lasting for one season (13 episodes). Now, Sony / Columbia Pictures (as well as Blumhouse Productions) and director Jeff Wadlow present the horror remake of the iconic show with the film titled Fantasy Island. Doe the movie finds its “horror scares” within its fantasy delights or is too far removed from the show’s premise to even care about?
Entering in a contest to spend a week at Fantasy Island, the winners, including business woman Gwen Wilson (Maggie Q), former policeman Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell), the young and disturbed Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), and close step-brother siblings JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang), are excited to experience all the mysterious location has to off them, only understanding the vacation spot’s power through various rumors. Greeting the guests is Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena), who presents the group with a chance to fulfill their deepest fantasies, only to warn them that there is only one fantasy per guest and that they must see the fantasies to its natural conclusion. Unclear of what that exactly means, the gang sets out on their separate adventures, with Gwen offered an opportunity to erase a regretful moment of her past by accepting a life with man she turned down, Patrick getting the chance to live out his fantasy of being in an enlisted in the army and tries to find solace within his father’s memory, Melanie get her taste of fantasy by wanting to get a personal revenge on her high school tormentor, Sloane (Portia Doubleday), and JD and Brax get to live fantasy life of money, luxury, and sinful lust. However, as their fantasies begin to unfold, the truth behind the dark nature of Fantasy Island begins to come to light, which is driven by Mr. Roarke’s plans and orchestrating events that sets to kill the guests within the fantastical dreams.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Look, boss, the plane…the plane!” Oh, that line and how much it has been referenced in pop-culture fandom. I do have to say that, for quite some time, I never saw Fantasy Island. During my youth and adolescence years, I never watched the original TV show classic, but was familiar with its premise and well-known quotes and characters (i.e. Mr. Roarke and Tattoo). As I said, a lot of various cartoon and TV shows took the iconic moments of Fantasy Island and utilized them as parody skits within their show’s context in an amusing way. I did eventually get around to see a couple of episodes of Fantasy Island a few years back and found them to be enjoyable as I could see why many liked the show. I liked the concept idea of the show, with guest giving their chance to live out their fantasies, but at a risk / cost. I did not, however, catch the 1998 revival TV show, but, as I thinking about, that might be a good thinking as I’m sure that’s one of the more unmemorable / forgettable TV shows (made for good reason).
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Fantasy Island, a 2020 horror feature that seems to reworked the show’s premise into one that has more scares and chills. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie’s announcement or inherit “buzz” while I was online until I saw the film’s movie trailer. Judging from the trailer alone, I was somewhat interested in seeing the movie, for (as mentioned above), the idea of the original show was good and updating the material (for a new generation) and adding a more horror-like influence into the mix. Plus, the movie was being produced by Blumhouse, which has become the more premiere horror studio out there. That being said, the movie itself didn’t look like it was striking “horror gold” as it’s kind of had that “meh” feeling; a sort of generic “run of the mill” feeling that many horror movies nowadays have. Still, the premise intrigued me and I decided to check the movie out during its opening weekend. And what did I think of it? Well, its not a good one…I can tell you that. Despite having a concept idea for the movie as well as few compelling bits, Fantasy Island is simple tonally mess that comes up short in various areas of horror, comedy, and entertainment within its premise. The idea is there, but the execution and presentation of it all horribly shoddy and all over the map.
Fantasy Island is directed by Jeff Wadlow, whose previous directorial works includes such films like Never Back Down, Kick-Ass 2, and Truth or Dare. From its initial standpoint, Wadlow certainly has the right idea of translating the classic TV show’s premise of Fantasy Island into a horror genre in a way that’s something akin to the “The Monkey Paw” motif and nuances (i.e. a person’s wish / desire is granted, but not in the way that they intended). In this regard, the movie works. Well, halfway works, but I’ll expand on that criticism down below. Suffice to say, Wadlow certainly showcases that concept idea into the movie…. a sort of Westworld meets The Cabin in the Woods. Additionally, the interweaving of the four different fantasies that play out for a bulk of the film’s first two acts is rather good, with Wadlow intersplicing the narrative events that (for the most part) keeps a person’s interest invested in how everything will eventually play out. Thus, the staging of these narrative threads is pretty decent; making Wadlow’s direction admirable in his attempt. Plus, some of the film’s storylines do have a little bit of compelling pieces to them, most notably in Gwen and Patrick’s stories.
In a technical presentation, Fantasy Island definitely has a visual appeal to it, which is probably one of strongest positives that the movie has going for it. Much like the show, the actual “Fantasy Island” resort and surrounding vicinity looks quite breath-taking, with the principal photography taking place in Fiji; offering up the picturesque island landscape that Fowler (and his team) wanted to convey on-screen. In this regard, it actually works, with the primary setting for parameters of Fantasy Island looks great. So, good job to the film’s scouting team as well as production designs by Marc Fisichella and set decorations by Thomas Salpietro. That being said, the rest of the “behind the scenes” team members (i.e. costumes, cinematography, film editing, etc.) are all just “okay” and somewhat meet the industry standards of similar film endeavors like this movie. Nothing to rave about nor criticize over. In addition, the score for the feature, which was composed by Bear McCreary, is pretty good in some areas (mostly the lighthearted moments) and decent in others (more notable during the horror / tense moments).
Unfortunately, Fantasy Island stumbles more often than not and struggles to find a balanced medium in how it wants to present its story. How so? Well, the movie, for lack of a better term, is a haphazard tonally mess. In truth, Fantasy Island is a combination of horror and comedy in which the story being told is trying to play to both genres. However, the film’s tone is completely off as both the horror and / or comedy aspects doesn’t exactly mesh well together; creating a jumble mess of a film that is neither. For the horror nuances, there are some that work, but only had a decent / mediocre level. To be quite honest, the horror elements aren’t really that scary, which is immediately clear when they first appear on-screen. This is further realized when Fantasy Island is rated PG-13. Thus, nothing is going to be “truly scary” and / or “menacing” in the movie. What’s given is a few “spooky” bits and pieces, but it all just falls flat and never actually works. Personally, a lot of the horror moments just seem a goofy and unimaginative. The staging of the things is quite clear and could’ve worked…. if only the actual horrors being displayed…were entertaining. Suffice to say, they were not and just merely exuberating the faults of Fantasy Island. As for the comedy aspect of the film, it fails in the same regard, with a lot of humor-based moments that ultimately don’t work. It’s a combination of stuff that doesn’t feel appropriate for the film (in amidst life and death struggles that are intertwined in personal fantasies) as well as clunky written material and poorly delivered by the cast members (more on that below).
Where this all comes from is a combination of the film’s director and the handling of the film’s script, which was penned by Wadlow as well as Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach. From a director’s standpoint, Wadlow doesn’t really have a strong finesse in executing the film’s events in way and means to make it feel enticing or engrossing. Everything is stage correctly, but everything is poorly done in rather haphazard and clunky execution of events; rendering a lot of the film’s events and scenes mediocre at best and uninspiring at worst. Much like his efforts on Truth or Dare, Wadlow presents Fantasy Island in an unmemorable way that never really comes into its own and only offers up glossy and surface level motion picture. From a writing standpoint, the film is poorly done and woefully conceived, with plenty of cliché written moments / dialogue bits that are straight out of a terrible B-rated movie. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the movie’s script to be something of “Oscar-worthy” or anything like that, but I was expected something a heck of more that what’s presented. Like a lot of things about this movie, the initial set-up is good, but how everything plays is undercooked and quite glossy; never really getting to the substance “meat” of the story that the film desirable wants to achieve. Plus, a lot of the dialogue and character-built moments are pretty unmemorable and cliched written. What’s made even worse is in how the film’s third act is handle, which is hastily rushed, a complete “curveball” of a twist that doesn’t feel warranted and cheaply added, and an unsatisfying overall narrative that doesn’t work at all.
The cast in Fantasy Island has a few recognizable faces throughout the movie’s various characters (both major and minor ones). However, while the intent is there, most of the acting talents involved can’t elevate their respective characters beyond their woefully thinly-sketched caricatures, with most being mediocrely bland to some being downright unlikable from the get-go. The film’s main characters, the ones that are so-called “guests” on Fantasy Island are the perfect example of this; finding them to be rather dull and generic with very little reason to care about them, which is mostly due to how they are written in the film’s story. The best example of this is in the character of Melanie Cole, the obnoxious young adult character whose fantasy is to take revenge on a former high school bully from her past. Played by actress Lucy Hale, known for her roles in Screams 4, Pretty Little Liars, and Truth or Dare, the character of Melanie is easy the absolute worst and most hated character in the entire film. This is mostly due to Haley’s performance, which is quite horrible in how she makes Melanie so shallow, obnoxious, and immediately unlikeable right from the get-go. The other half of the character’s problem stems from how the character is written, which (again) is shallow, obnoxious, and totally unlikeable. As a side-note, actress Portia Doubleday (Mr. Robot and Youth in Revolt) plays the character of Sloane, Melanie’s high school bully tormentor. Unfortunately, much like Haley’s performance, Doubleday performance is pretty much a groaner and nothing more.
Behind Hale’s Melanie, actors Ryan Hansen, known for his roles in Veronica Mars, 2 Broke Girls, and Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television, and Jimmy O. Yang, known for his roles in Patriots Day, Crazy Rich Asians, and Life of the Party, play the two surrogate sibling brothers JD and Brax Weaver. While both Hansen and Yang try their best with the material is given to them, the roles in the movie are quite uninteresting and ultimately fall flat, which is mostly due to their characters being the comedic levity on the project. The story’s journey isn’t quite that interesting and actually proves to be the weakest one of this group of main characters. So much so that their storyline could’ve been (and should’ve been) cut from the film’s presentation and probably could’ve had a better understanding of the other three “guest” fantasies. The last two characters of this group (i.e. Gwen Olsen and Patrick Sullivan) get a little bit more attention in the film’s narrative, which is mostly due to their respective characters have a bit “meatier” in their fantasies and how their outcome of it all. In a better light, actress Maggie Q, known for her roles in Divergent, Designated Survivor, and Live Free or Die Hard, and actor Austin Stowell, known for his roles in Love and Honor, Bridge of Spies, and Whiplash, are better representation acting talents to make their characters more compelling, but (again) that’s mostly do to how their “fantasies” play out in the movie. In truth, Q and Stowell are mediocre in the movie and that’s about it; never really rising to challenge to the roles their own and are just simply trying to play around with what’s given to them.
Personally, who actually fares the best in the film (more so that the main primary characters) is actor Michael Pena as Mr. Roarke, the mysterious and enigmatic host of Fantasy Island and the one who sees his “guests” fantasy come to life. Pena, known for his roles in Ant-Man, The Martian, and 12 Strong, has always been more leaning towards the broader and comedic roles of his career, but has begun to venture towards more gravitas roles and / or projects. That doesn’t mean that his partaking involvement in Fantasy Island is one worth of note in his career, but it is indeed one that feels the most natural in the movie. As Mr. Roarke, Pena plays the role in a very downplay manner; never underselling or over-acting the character and keeps his performance on an even-keel. This, in turn, makes Mr. Roarke a very interesting character since a lot of the mystery surrounding him and that of the Island’s magic in the movie speaks to his character. Thus, I liked Pena as Mr. Roarke as is the best part of the feature. Sadly, actor Michael Rooker, known for his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead, and Mallrats is woefully underutilized in the movie as the character of Damon, an investigate journalist who wants to expose Mr. Roarke and Fantasy Island for the true horrors underneath its superfluous mask. I get the character and how the film wants to incorporate him into the narrative, but it just simply doesn’t work; offering up the character of Damon as nothing more than a “cog in the machine” for exposition narrative dumps (i.e. story plot points drops to the characters) and to propel the movie forward in the middle act. Such a shame. The rest of the supporting players in the movie are relatively small and aren’t really noteworthy to mention, despite being a few being recognizable from other projects.
The island knows your secrets and deepest fantasies, but one must see their own fantasies reach their natural conclusion….no matter what the cost in the movie Fantasy Island. Director Jeff Wadlow’s latest film takes the classic TV show’s premise and interweaves underlining horror elements; creating a presentation that is ripe for wrapping desire and twisting fantasy expectations. Unfortunately, while the movie has an interesting concept idea and a few visual appeals to its presentation, majority of the film is badly underwhelming and tonally misshaped, especially considering Wadlow’s direction, a weak script, not scary horror elements, a bad third act twist, a clunky narrative progression, and some uninteresting / unlikeable characters. To me, I didn’t care for this movie as it more “ugh’ to me than just “meh”. Like I mentioned above, the horror premise idea was interesting, but the film just squanders that idea for a cheesy B-rated horror flick that doesn’t deliver on thrills, scares, or entertainment. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solid “skip it” as there’s no really redeeming qualities to see the film, even if you’re a fan of the original TV show, a fan of the movie’s horror premise, or even a fan of Blumhouse productions. In the end, Fantasy Island is just a hollow attempt that ultimately doesn’t work and just feels the whole “be careful what you wish for” premise in a poorly executed presentation. This is one “fantasy” that you should stay away from.
2.1 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: February 14th, 2020
Reviewed On: February 20th, 2020
Fantasy Island is 109 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, drug content, suggestive material, and brief strong language