It’s hard not to notice the first red flag of a new horror film when the trailer drops using the familiar acid-pop intro from an Ariana Grande track, suggesting that the target audience will be intended for those born no earlier than 1992. If that isn’t enough to raise the alarms, the fact that Blumhouse Studios, along with American filmmaker Jeff Wadlow (Truth or Dare, Kick-Ass 2), have taken a treasured television series to fuel their newest project most certainly should. And if these blatant warning signs aren’t enough to divert your interest towards something more substantial, prepare for 100+ minutes of good-looking celebs glistening in peril under the pacific sun – which is about the only thing that will make you sweat in this painfully dull escapade to karma-rehab.
Reinvigorating the original concept with a bigger budget and bigger stars, but not necessarily bigger ideas, this shallow reboot of ABC’s weird and wacky Fantasy Island is the perfect example of a well-renowned studio butchering a classic slice of TV history without ever having a clear plan in mind, not to mention, hinting that another unwanted (and unnecessary) franchise might be in order.
Set somewhere on a remote island in Fiji (“a place where anything and everything is possible”), we are thrown headfirst into the depths of disaster with five hot-to-trot strangers who’ve recently won a competition to make all their wildest fantasies come true, and what begins as an opportunity of a lifetime, quickly descends into a tropical-bound nightmare when the clueless contestants suddenly realise that they are in fact, clueless victims.
After starring in Wadlow’s last stab at horror in 2018’s Truth or Dare, Lucy Hale returns to play Melanie, the frisky party chick with an up-for-anything attitude and an unfed craving for revenge against a high school bully, Sonja (Portia Doubleday). We then have Elena (Maggie Q), a single woman plagued by regret after declining her one true love’s marriage proposal, Brax and Bradley (Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen) playing the goofball brothers whose moronic wish is basically to party, Randall (Austin Stowell) the sensitive soldier with daddy-issues in search for catharsis, and lastly, the island’s notorious manager, Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), who looks more like an casino tycoon from Las Vegas than he does the evil moustache-twisting villain that we’re meant to believe he is.
As a film of this calibre would commonly suggest, this is not the kind of movie-going experience that was ever planning to cast its net further than audiences outside of deprived genre fans or juveniles with a couple of hours to kill after school, but there’s always a glimmer of hope that with a portfolio like Wadlow’s, after so many wrongs, a commercial filmmaker should eventually make a right. Yet, amongst the gorgeous locations and a premise offering more than enough creative freedom for the director and his team to go for gold, we’re instead subjected to a preteen-safe mishmash of ideas that gets lost somewhere between being a half-baked slasher and an uneventful action-adventure.
If blending genres were illegal, authorities would re-open Alcatraz just to lock-up Wadlow, because his careless treatment of the material is nothing short of a shambolic crime, so much so, that it’s virtually impossible to decipher what kind of experience he’s aiming for and how we as an audience are supposed to digest it. Like a rogue pinball ricocheting from side to side, he zigzags us between multiple storylines like there’s no tomorrow; one moment we’re in torture chamber hinting that a Hostel knockoff might be in order, and the next, we’re suddenly thrown into romantic time-travel, jungle-bound war sequences and even a pool party resulting in cartel craziness.
All of this would be acceptable if the ludicrous plot, absence of character development and complete lack of style was at least substituted with some well-staged scares, tension or even humour, but Wadlow seems walking a tightrope with no end in sight, juggling each storyline without ever drawing logical connections between them or finding grip on his own craft. That’s not to say there aren’t some moments to inspire the odd side-smirk or chuckle every so often; the screenplay offering a few spicy one-liners delivered mostly by Hale, or the infrequent plot twist to distract us from our escalating boredom, but by the time the laughably convoluted climax arrives, insinuating that the collective presence of each contestant on the island amounts to some higher meaning – we’ve already checked out.
The past has proved that Blumhouse is more than capable of producing highly entertaining material – the kind that expects much less brain power to process than most of the “elevated” horror being released nowadays, which is why it’s so baffling to see how fast Fantasy Island sinks beneath itself. For one, Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day managed to revitalise the well-worn Groundhog Day convention with a fresh perspective, and more recently, Tate Taylor’s Ma (while not entirely convincing) still upheld a sense of amusement by creating a central character so irrationally out-of-control, it was impossible not to admire for the risks it decided to take. But here, we end up with that same feeling you get when scanning travel magazines in preparation for a long-overdue holiday; pages of luxurious resorts decked-out to your liking with lagoon pools and well-trained staff to serve you endless cocktails at the click of a finger, only to find that when you arrive, the destination looks nothing like the pictures, the staff have no sense of hospitality and you’re stuck somewhere you don’t want to be with no way out.
Fantasy Island: A One Way Ticket to Nowhere
We’ve all heard the age-old saying “be careful what you wish for”; words that, in reality, are smart ones to live by, but Wadlow’s execution of that timely lesson feels just as trite as it does embarrassingly uninspired, almost as if the idea of rebooting a hit TV series with a handful of familiar faces plucked from pop-culture would be enough to distract audiences from the staggering lack of imagination that went into the overall production. It’s a real shame, because on paper, this is the kind of loony concept that works best within the realms of horror, and in more capable hands, it could have been a really wild ride. What should have been a sun-soaked blockbuster succeeding solely on the basis of being ‘dumb fun’, leaves us seesawing between feeling shamelessly entertained and frustratingly ripped-off. This might only result in a mere shrug for some, but a vast majority will leave the cinema fantasising about what else they could have spent their money on.
Have you seen Fantasy Island? If so, how do you think it compares to the original television series or even as a stand alone film up against other horror films in 2020? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Fantasy Island was released in the USA on the 14th of February and in the UK on the 6th of March, 2020. For other release dates, click here.
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