FANTASY ISLAND – Film Review

The enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort, but when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.

You may think of me as somewhat as a fool, but yes, I was actually a little bit skeptical about Jeff Wadlow’s newest feature Fantasy Island. Not because of his past work or anything like that, though. This is not his first film under the Blumhouse Productions banner – that would be 2018’s abysmal Truth or Dare, which was one of the worst horror films in recent years.

The reason why I was cautiously optimistic about his newest project with the beloved horror studio was because it was taking the Fantasy Island television series that has been adored by many people since its inception on January 14, 1977 and spinning it on its head.

Those that are fans of the series of the same name will tell you that it is most certainly not a horror series. It is a simplistic drama set on a wonderful island, and not a whole lot of crazy things happen throughout the series. It has its fair share of dramatic moments, but nothing about that original series is insanely intense or dark.

From left to right: Lucy Hale as Melanie Cole, Austin Stowell as Patrick Sullivan, and Michael Peña as Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island (2020).

What Wadlow is doing with this movie, is taking the same concept behind the show of the same name and making it a fully fledged horror film. It actually sounded heavily enticing to me. In fact, it left me thinking “How has this not been done before?”. In a world where we see hundreds of remakes coming out in theatres left right and centre, how is it possible that we haven’t had a film remake of Fantasy Island, one of the most iconic shows from the 70s?

Plus, setting any horror movie on an island seems like a really fun and creative idea. There really is so much potential there and there is so much a horror writer and director could do to make that idea come to life in a thrilling and creepy way. Unfortunately, Wadlow’s follow-up to Truth or Dare is yet another drastically disappointing and painfully dull horror film that barely has anything promising to offer.

One of the things I hate the most about some horror films is the way that the screenplay treats its characters. Often times they are portrayed as really stupid and they make some insanely baffling decisions along the way. We have seen numerous films do this throughout the years, and we have even had some movies do an absolutely brilliant job at poking fun at this tired trope.

Take The Cabin in the Woods for example. Virtually everybody thought that movie was going to suck because of the generic and bland looking trailers as well as the relatively dull posters. The marketing as a whole lead people to believe the movie was going to be awful. But then it came out and took everybody by complete surprise because it was actually kind of a horror parody. It was so self aware and constantly found genius ways to make fun of the tropes that we hate seeing in so many horror films these days.

But Fantasy Island is not self-aware. It doesn’t acknowledge the fact that it has tropes or anything of the sort. It just simply has tropes and they are frustrating. Character motivation is thrown completely out the window here. The whole premise of the movie is that a bunch of young adults travel to a fantastic island in hopes of a fun romantic getaway, and a charming snazzy man named Mr. Roarke makes all their deepest wishes come true. But they soon realize that they might be in for more than they asked for.

Whenever some genuinely off-putting and disturbing things start to happen on the island, there is barely an effort amongst the group to try and leave. Yes, they do question things that happen sometimes, but they just constantly make increasingly bad decisions scene after scene. A device that may help a character escape a certain situation such as a phone or boat always manages to get discarded or lost.

Lucy Hale as Melanie Cole in Fantasy Island (2020).

Speaking of the characters, they are all extremely unlikable. They are annoying, rude, and abrasive young adults that act like they are drunk highschoolers throughout the entire movie. It’s hard to feel sympathy for these characters because of two main reasons. One, we are never given any good reason to care about them. They are only in the movie for bad things to inevitably happen to them, and that’s it. They don’t feel like characters at all, but rather pawns waiting to be knocked off the map. Two, all of the characters are so incredibly annoying and genuinely rude that it is difficult to be worried for them because of the situation they are in. If all of these people were to die in the first twenty minutes of the film, I would not have cared one bit. In fact, I would have been glad, because then I wouldn’t have had to endure such a painfully boring film.

If I were to pick the best character, the one that was the least annoying, it would probably have to be Michael Peña’s Mr. Roarke. He is not a hero or anything like that, but the reason why he can be entertaining to watch is all thanks to Peña. It is genuinely always a blast to watch him portray any character. Ever since seeing him in 2015’s Ant-Man for the first time, I have always found him to be an excellent actor and great at delivering comedy. Here, he probably gets the most to do out of any of the characters in the movie, and he can be somewhat amusing to watch on screen.

Lucy Hale portrays one of the lead protagonists Melanie Cole, and while I did not like her character, I did think her performance was decent. She does a fair enough job in a movie that does not deserve her acting talent. Previously, she starred in the aforementioned Truth or Dare, but she has been in some good projects in the past. She tries her best here but she was unfortunately saddled with a poor film.

Now, since this is a horror movie, you’re probably going to see this movie in hopes of getting scared or at the very least, getting the creeps. While there are some entertaining and fun sequences, the majority of the movie feels extremely generic and does not have a lot to offer. I suppose it could come across as somewhat eerie to people that don’t watch too many horror films, but for seasoned veterans in the genre, this will feel like a walk in the park.

The biggest praise I can give Fantasy Island is its cinematography by Toby Oliver, who previously shot other Blumhouse pictures such as the phenomenal Get Out and the horror comedies Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U. It is honestly hard to make a movie set on a tropical island look ugly. Oliver’s cinematography here, like always, shines. Every shot looks well framed and it is full of great colors. It looks delightfully stylish and exciting. I just really wish he could showcase his excellent camera work in a different movie. Really, I wish everybody involved with this project could have shown their talents in a different movie. Because at the end of the day, I like all of these actors. Wadlow is not an awful director, either. His direction here is good enough. It’s just that the film that everybody came together to make, was a disappointment.

Fantasy Island is no tropical horror adventure. It contains a drastically dull script, unlikable characters, and doesn’t offer enough scares for its target audience.

Overall Grade: D+

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror, drug content, suggestive material and brief strong language

Cast: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, Michael Rooker, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Charlotte McKinney, Robbie Jones, Kim Coates

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing

Release Date: February 14, 2020 (United States)

Running Time: 110 minutes

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