If there was a television property ripe for adaptation into a horror film, it would be anything but Fantasy Island. Not only was it campy (even for the 70s) but it was a series where everything worked out just as it was meant to, even if that result wasn’t what you expected. It was a series that believed in the inherent good of people, a show of its time that wore its heart on its sleeve thanks to a premise that revolved around the kindness of the island’s ‘owner’ Mr Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalbán). Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island in comparison is dreary, cold and a barebones copy of the original formula, only without the compassion and optimism that made such a lasting impression.
Following 5 contest winners who arrive on Fantasy Island expecting their ultimate desires to be fulfilled, from Gwen’s (Maggie Q) desire to reconnect with a lost love, to Melanie’s (Lucy Hale) to get some payback on a high school bully, each comes to the island seeking something. Their fantasies, however, are flipped when the island, under the management of the mysterious Mr Roarke (Michael Peña) starts to use their own dreams against them as they fight to find a way off the island.
While the surroundings of this extended horror version are lush, with beautiful vistas and a tropical locale, the whole thing feels like a bottle episode, an exercise in belt-tightening akin to the original series. Sets are used over and over again, from the same dark, poorly shot caves to the single island hut the production deemed enough. There is no attention to detail, no wonder to a seemingly magical place. As holiday’s go, it doesn’t inspire confidence right from the start, even before the shooting and stabbing starts.
The cheap feel is only perpetuated by the superficial characters, a list of stereotypes amalgamated into a list of regrets, not people. Brax and J.D, two brothers intent on having ‘a good time’ drive the movies comedy content, which is to say unintentionally. Brax, at one point, tells audiences of his ‘many layers’ before deciding he has just two. The problem is that the joke proves to be indicative of the whole seemingly pointless exercise. Characters are boiled down and reduced to their fantasies, what they want and what causes them to want it. All these people care about are their regrets and for a film about people exploring their deepest desires, their needs are phenomenally depressing.
The groaning, loud soundtrack, that feels ripped straight out of Jaws doesn’t match a film that flings itself from horror to comedy at a moments notice. Director Jeff Wadlow, despite trying to craft a story around moving on with your life, labours the point but never really understands what the ultimate goal is for almost all of his characters. The film ends with a confused moan, unsure of what the point was. A twist ending, as expected from a Blumhouse film tenuously links these disparate characters together but ultimately makes a mockery out of why they came here in the first place.
All this would make a certain level of sense if Wadlow played into the obvious comedy of the moronic situation they find themselves in instead of the horror motifs flung about but Fantasy Island wants to have its cake and eat it too. All it really ends up doing is making a mess.