REVIEW: Fantasy Island (2020)

Whatever is next? The Love Boat remade as a slasher? Family Ties as an exorcism thriller? Jeff Wadlow’s 2020 horror film Fantasy Island reimagines the popular television drama, which ran seven seasons from 1978 to 1984 and starred Ricardo Montalbán as the mysterious Mr Rourke and Hervé Villechaize as his assistant Tattoo. Guests would arrive by plane, and could magically experience a dream scenario – usually one capped off by misadventure and a moral lesson from Rourke. Wadlow’s film does include a new Mr Rourke (Michael Peña) and a group of guests coming ashore to experience their chosen fantasies, but the potential of this new adaptation is wasted due to a muddled and weakly developed screenplay that kills it stone dead.

Honestly there is little joy in writing a negative review, particularly when the failed work is as anodyne and ordinary as this. Production house Blumhouse, whose back catalogue includes a variety of successes and failures, usually makes better fare than this. Its missteps rarely make it inside a movie theatre, which Fantasy Island did on the eve of the global COVID-19 shutdown. It managed to pull in almost 50 million dollars; I bet most of the audiences wished for refunds.

Wadlow’s Fantasy Island begins like the TV series, in that a plane full of rich holidaymakers arrives with each passenger sent into their own seemingly impossible scenario. A woman (Maggie Q) who feels her life failed after turning down a marriage proposal travels back in time to make amends. Two brothers (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang) get to live out their weekend in a rich, model-filled villa. A police officer (Austin Stowell) who never followed his father into the military is dropped into a warzone. A woman (Lucy Hale) whose life was ruined by a school bully is offered the chance to take revenge. Of course before long each scenario takes a sinister turn, as each dream evolves into a violent nightmare.

For a horror film it is surprisingly bloodless and low on suspense. The various storylines feel more ridiculous than threatening, and tend not to make much sense. Certainly the film makes it difficult for the viewer to really put their various pieces together, and when the film pulls them close it is with a weak third act that spends more time explaining what it going on that actually showing it happen. When the mysteries are all answered, it is in a manner than actually contradicts earlier events in the film. Michael Peña is trapped in a role that could provide a lot of dramatic potential, but it is so weakly written that he – like his co-stars – comes across more bored and embarrassed than anything else. Even Michael Rooker, who has made a successful career out of lifting up otherwise moribund pulp material, appears to be at a loss.

One can glimpse the potential of a horror-themed Fantasy Island, if they squint and turn their head to one side, but the actual film positively reeks of a lack of effort. It is weakly devised, lazily written, and brought together in a manner that suggests something made for streaming – the sort of cinematic ‘shovelware’ that exists to provide not a film but simply content. How it made its way into cinemas is beyond me. How it made 50 million dollars is honestly incomprehensible.

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