Jeff Wadlow’s Fantasy Island ain’t worth one ticket to paradise, let alone two. Blumhouse’s reworked ABC drama isn’t the ferocious sanctuary survival trailers or posters promote, nor do its mystical elements beckon nostalgic enjoyment. To be fair, no one in Blumhouse’s intended demographic will understand “Tattoo” Easter Eggs or remember the 80s televised Fantasy Island, but even as a standalone, Fantasy Island: Blumhouse Edition is sloppy brand-name abuse. Never haunting, rarely thrilling, and needlessly overcomplicated as an almost two-hour film that lasts one inescapable eternity.
A group of contest winners is flown to an exotic paradise known as “Fantasy Island,” where they’re introduced to resort manager Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña). The location is famous for making dreams come true, as Mr. Roarke informs his guests they’re each allowed one “fantasy.” Melanie (Lucy Hale) and others question how Roarke architects such wild, imaginative requests – hallucinogens in the water, hologram technology, etc. – but their host assures the island knows all. One by one each guest enters their requested fantasy, which doesn’t end until reaching a “natural conclusion.” Ominous threat fully intended.
Cue a collection of “guests” who all harbor deep regrets or pains that distort otherwise surface-value fantasies. Melanie desires revenge against a childhood bully, which plants abductee Sonja (Portia Doubleday) into a Hostel situation. Randall (Austin Stowell) wants to play soldier for a day, but his Call Of Duty wargames quickly resurrect repressed parental trauma. Brad (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) – fratty adopted “bros” who still excitedly high-five and crotch thrust – “want it all,” but their suntanned model harem comes with a price. All the pieces are in play to explore separate characters facing their own destinies, but that’s not enough for the three scribes of Fantasy Island. Timelines intersect and continuities collide, which further convolutes an already scattershot-cringy narrative.
It’s hard enough for Wadlow to blend tones when jumping from Lucy’s torture-porn world to Brax and Brad’s “comical” Scarface simulation to Elena’s (Maggie Q) second shot at wedded bliss. A lopsided balancing act that topples over, rebuilds, then topples again, lacking required stability that’d keep Roarke’s looming menace tightly woven through each fantasy. Brad’s faux macho chest-puffing grows tiresome the minute Melanie calls out the film’s jokester duo (maybe three dialogue lines in), especially when jumping from Brad and Brax’s “Wild & Crazy Guys” schtick into Randall’s Apocalypse Now firestorm. This is all before guests encounter a reclusive wingnut (played by Michael Rooker), a charred supernatural figure is explained, and the “Fantaseers” (copyright, me) must defeat enchanted island voodoo.
Without spoiling why, Fantasy Island pivots – well, more jackknifes – from lackluster horror storytelling into an incomprehensibly ill-plotted third act that workshops far too many inexplicable twists. Retconning character growth in the name of psychotic villainy. Mobilizing fantasies into a united army versus channeling the dramatic empathy and danger within each guest’s requested utopia. The more Wadlow attempts to “shock” or “surprise” audiences, the more his film reveals itself to show no commitment to deeper experiences beyond “the secret’s in the black water” – which is obvious from frame one when we hear the dripping of said murky liquid.
Granted, this is Blumhouse pandering to its core audience of Friday night genre crowds. Dare I say even they’ll be underwhelmed by the film’s inability to cohesively bring terror to this idyllic honeymoon haven?
Analyzed on horror screenwriting alone, Fantasy Island is an embarrassment of rusted and tarnished riches. Red herrings and false hopes that are instantly crossed out the minute they’re teased. Camerawork that squanders reveals instead of coaxing inherent dread. A character who utters the line “we HAVE to stick together” moments before her group splits up one-by-one with zero justification or acknowledgment of the life-saving instruction. Finale fireworks that never explode, low hanging motivational fruits, and worst of all, thrusting Michael Peña into a muted role as your bland-as-burnt-toast take on Mr. Roarke. Ya’ll wasted Michael Peña in a wackadoo midnight movie. How is that possible?
From start to finish, Fantasy Island is lacking wicked wonderment and poignant reboot vocality. Mr. Roarke’s command center hotel is a slice of breezy getaway bliss, but production design facades only dumbfound for so long. As unwitting role-players watch their fantasies nosedive wildly out of control, so do the film’s conflicting intentions and utter lack of urgency. What should be a most dangerous game is an overlong destination disaster that’s missing the nightmare aspects you’d expect from Blumhouse. Toothless, halfhearted, and an all-around unfantastical misfire.