“Fantasy Island” stars Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, and Michael Rooker. Released on February 14, 2020, the film is about a group of people who discover the remote island’s dark nature.
The film is directed by Jeff Wadlow, who also directed films such as “Cry Wolf”, “Never Back Down”, and “Truth or Dare”. It is based on the 1977 television series of the same name created by Gene Levitt. It’s always nice to see our dreams come to life right in front of our eyes, but there are some dreams that should just stay hidden in our minds. Valentine’s Day was a great day for couples to watch a bunch of cheesy romance films until the sun goes down. It was also a great day for them to watch a scary film that’ll make them cuddle each other with fright. Today, I will be spending the last day of this romantic holiday weekend on an island that’s filled with many possibilities…and many frightening fantasies that could kill me, courtesy of the people from Blumhouse. “Fantasy Island” was a pretty successful series back in the late 1970s. The show, which has multiple guests encountering their fantasies on a mysterious island, spanned two television movies, seven seasons, and a one-season revival in 1998. Based on the title alone, it sounded like something that would make for a great fantasy show for the whole family, but it’s actually not as the fantasies that were shown in the series come with a price. With a concept like that, it’s no surprise that Jason Blum and his Blumhouse team wanted to reimagine it as a full-fledged horror film. I was intrigued by the film’s plot alone, but I was also concerned about it because of the involvement of Jeff Wadlow, who helmed the extremely disappointing “Truth or Dare” two years ago. That film gave me another reason why I should never play that game with my friends. Despite my concerns, I was willing to remain optimistic towards it. I mean, it couldn’t be as bad as “Truth or Dare”, right?
Similar to the source material, the film focuses on a group of guests who all won a contest that takes them to a remote tropical island resort owned by the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Peña). There, he encourages them to live out their best fantasies during their stay. Unfortunately, their vacation quickly turns into a nightmare when they find out that their dreams turn out to be more real (and deadly) than they thought. In order to escape with their lives, the guests must uncover the island’s secrets before their fantasies kill them off. As expected, the story is the entire plot of the “Fantasy Island” show, but with a horror twist. I haven’t actually watched the show myself, so this review is actually my first hands-on experience with the concept. What got me interested in the film was its theme, which is wish fulfillment. Seeing your personal desires come true is cool and all, but they all have its share of consequences. It’s like every episode of “The Fairly OddParents”. Every wish that can go wrong will go wrong. The film had the opportunity to take advantage of its theme by providing a fun, frightening and motivational view on the dangers of living in one’s own fantasy. Unfortunately, it let it slip by and didn’t even bother to try to catch it, resulting in another huge misfire for not just the Blumhouse team, but also for writer/director Jeff Wadlow. To be fair, it stayed true to what it set out to be, which is the darker version of the 1970s show, but it constantly struggled to maintain that tone all the way through, which is one of the major problems of the film. The marketing promised the film would have plenty of dark and scary moments that you won’t normally see in the show. That, my friends, is sadly a fantasy. In reality, the film didn’t know whether it wants to be a full-on horror film or not. To make matters worse, the film had a lot of potential moments that were neither frightening nor entertaining. Combine that with a trope-heavy plot and forgettable characters, and you get an uninspired and soulless fantasy that makes the counting sheep dream look like “The Godfather” in comparison. While the cast did okay in their roles, none of their performances stood out that much to me. Michael Peña did what he could as Mr. Roarke, and Lucy Hale was having a hard time impressing me with her performance as Melanie Cole, one of the island’s guests. This was the second collaboration between Hale and Wadlow following “Truth or Dare”, which tells me that Hale should find a more confident director to work with in the future. Not that there’s anything wrong with Wadlow or anything like that. It’s just the fact that his own execution on the horror genre wasn’t as daring as he wanted it to be. Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen both serve as the “comic relief” in the film as step-brothers Brax and J. D. Weaver, but their promising efforts weren’t enough to prevent me from wanting to leave the island. The only characters that I thought were more interesting were Patrick Sullivan (Stowell) and Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q) because of their personal reasons as to why they want to see their own fantasies come true. For Gwen, it was to accept a proposal that she rejected many years ago. For Patrick, it was to serve in the army in honor of his late father. Sure, you got Melanie who was traumatized by her childhood bully, but the third act somehow ruined her character in my opinion, so she doesn’t count. Those side plots alone would’ve made the film a bit better, but because of the film’s genre cliches and tame jump scares, they both came off as wasted opportunities.
Overall, “Fantasy Island” is neither scary nor clever enough to make my fantasy of getting a decent horror film come true. The actors in the film were passable in their roles, but their efforts on making this tropical vacation fun and relaxing weren’t able to cover up its majorly flawed execution on the film’s concept. With its stale story, mediocre characters, weak scares, and a bunch of horror cliches, this is another horror film that fails to deliver the frights and its convincing substance to its target audience. Maybe Jason Blum should reconsider his decision to rehire Wadlow to write and direct one of his future projects because so far, he’s not doing well with these types of films at all. Let’s hope that Blum and Leigh Whannell’s take on “The Invisible Man” will fare better than this embarrassment.