“Anything and everything is possible on Fantasy Island.” That’s what the overseer of the island, Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) says, anyway. The island is purported to have mystical powers, the type of powers that can make a fantasy real. Five individuals are about to find out for themselves: stepbrothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), Randall (Austin Stowell), Elena (Maggie Q), and Melanie (Lucy Hale).
Their fantasies? Bradley & Brax simply want to live big, Randall desires to be a soldier, Elena would like a do-over of the moment she constantly thinks about, and Melanie, the opportunity to torment her high school tormentor, Sonja (Portia Doubleday). They all get this, and then some. One rule of Fantasy Island? Participants must see though their fantasy to its natural conclusion.
Back in 2018, Blumhouse put their name in the title of one of their movies, a move that seemed to signal that they themselves knew Truth or Dare wouldn’t have sold without it. It’s the benefit of building name brand equity, which they’ve rightfully accumulated from past works. Put a recognizable name that carries clout on something, people may buy, questionable quality be damned. Truth or Dare was bad, as too is Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island.
There are definitely a few ties to Truth or Dare, beginning with who’s behind the camera. Jeff Wadlow returns to direct a particular brand of PG-13 horror that turns out to be anything but at minimum mildly terrifying. Yes, the movie is a “twisted” re-imagining of the 70’s television show, and the 70’s part probably should have served as the first red flag Blumhouse had. Who is this really for? So many of the callbacks, treated as a big deal, are going to be lost on 90% of those under 30, potentially 40 (thank you Wikipedia for catching yours truly up to speed). Hard to see the 50 and over crowd itching to go into a theater to see a “scary” re-imagining of a show they knew. The uncertainty extends to the tone, as Fantasy Island swings between disposable horror/thriller, eye-rolling comedy, and, surprisingly (in the worst of ways), drama. At the very least, Fantasy Island isn’t too bad to look at here and there; some extreme wide shots show the beauty of Taveuni, Fiji. Sure the cast had a great, all-expenses paid-for vacation.
Fantasy Island’s second tie to Truth or Dare? Employing the same screenplay writers. Wadlow, along with Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach combine to create a story that features sea snakes, black-eyed reanimated zombies, doppelgangers, and a mysterious rock. That’s actually not the worst of it. Believe it or not, the movie has a decent 20-30 minute start, setting up each of the participants’ fantasies. There’s never any opportunity to settle into the tale as the script ping-pongs between stories, with some more entertaining than others. But, where Fantasy Island truly falls apart is in the final act, where the stories finally coalesce in the most inanely incomprehensible fashion. The definition of insanity—in this case—is using the same writers over and over again and expecting a different result.
And for the hat trick bonding the two films together? The presence of Hale. It is somewhat unfair, and it’s definitely not all on her, but it might be safe to assume the worst for any future feature she appears predominately in. For Peña, a steady, versatile, even underrated, thespian, his appearance is reminiscent of a film he starred in from 2017 that was also based on 70’s television IP that nobody really asked for. Why does this have to be the first silver screen appearance for the talented Doubleday post Mr. Robot? Throw in a sleepy Q, an awfully annoying brotherly bromance courtesy of Hansen and Yang, and a discount Sam Worthington in Stowell, and it’s questionable as to even if there were better writing, whether the cast assembled could take advantage of it.
Despite the strongly negative tone of this piece, it’s reasonable to acknowledge that the premise of Fantasy Island (perhaps with a different title) had enough of a sturdy premise to warrant an attempt at an update. The best version of this movie is something like the Happy Death Days, but darker. What is presented is the worst version, and no hidden immunity idol or tribal council can save Fantasy Island from itself.
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