After the not so well received, critically or financially, Truth or Dare, Blumhouse Productions decided to give director Jeff Wadlow and star Lucy Hale a second chance at winning over the hearts of horror fans. Unfortunately their second swing, Fantasy Island, and it’s one hell of a swing, quickly turns from a fun-enough gander at the vicarious nature of movie viewing into a perplexing soap opera that overstays its welcome.
Loosely based on the 70’s television show, this thrill-induced reimagining begins as five contestants arrive at Fantasy Island where their most desired fantasies are promised to come true. Michael Peña plays Mr Roarke, a mysterious host who cryptically brings his guest’s fantasies to life. By the time the credits roll, you’ll either be deeply bothered or laughably impressed by his consistent over-delivery of “fantasy” (“Let me officially welcome you to Phahntasy Island,” “there is only one phahntasy per guest,” “you must see your phahntasy through no matter what”).
Fantasy Island‘s strongpoint is in the setup for each of its character’s fantasies. The first hour alludes to an amusing examination of the deceptive fantasies that movies can sell audiences. Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on a bully (Portia Doubleday) who’s high school abuse caused years of mental anguish, so she’s presented with a torture chamber setup to physically, mentally and socially destroy her harasser any way she pleases. Only Melanie believes its all smoke and mirrors, that she’s only tormenting a hologram. Not unlike a horror movie audience deriving enjoyment from on-screen suffering. As long as it’s not actually real, it’s okay. But when Melanie comes to grasp the realism of her actions, her attitude turns to empathy.
The notion of delving into the raw realities of a life that some movies sell as ideal fantasies is an intriguing one that Fantasy Island drops all too fast. Elena (Maggie Q) gets to live out her ideal life with her ideal man, the happily ever after promised from romance movies that just won’t sit right with her for some reason. Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), the two brothers and token comedic airheads, choose to “have it all,” only to learn the burdensome cost when competing gangs come to take it all from them in a Scarface-esque raid. And Randall (Austin Stowell), having dreamt his whole life of joining the military, confronts the atrocities of warfare that your average heroic war movie may gloss over and glorify.
Had it operated safely, stuck to its breezy, slightly sarcastic horror tone and played out a transparent plot for the remainder of its second hour, Fantasy Island would have made out just fine. But it doesn’t. The schmaltzy, insipid terrain it instead enters only baffles and begs the question, what were they thinking? Remarkably large plot holes regarding the ludicrous rules of the island stand out while characters, one after another, throw out convoluted narrative twists as if they’re in competition for most ridiculous shocking reveal. Each one of these turns is described in overbearing detail to drive home what’s happening, only to backfire and cause even more bewilderment. It doesn’t make any sense is an often unearned and overused description to quickly shoot down movies, but this one proudly earns that description. Wadlow is clearly aiming for absurdist B-movie enjoyment, but that’s a tough invitation to accept when the choppy tone seems just as lost on the cast as it is to the audience.
This one just opened in theaters. Check it out if you like backflips on fly boards at the best island party ever, beautiful people, more beautiful people, strange accents in devil face masks and Angela from Mr. Robot being Angela from Mr. Robot…on a magical island!
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