Truth and Movies

Fantasy Island

Review by Charles Bramesco @intothecrevasse

Directed by

Jeff Wadlow

Starring

Lucy Hale Maggie Q Michael Peña

Anticipation.

The TV show was fun enough, so sure, why not?

Enjoyment.

Ah. That’s why not.

In Retrospect.

Not booking a return trip any time soon.

A tropical getaway becomes a waking nightmare for its hapless guests in this dire reboot of the ’70s TV show.

There are but two rules on Fantasy Island, a tropical getaway where anything is possible (with the exception of recognisably human dialogue). Each guest is permitted to enact a scenario of their choosing, the catch being that they must see it through to its conclusion, no matter how painfully they will learn to be careful what they wish for.

Horror movies, of course, operate under a much more extensive rulebook. In his big-screen remake of the long-running TV series, Jeff Wadlow violates several of the genre’s major dictates, chiefly one pertaining to the concluding twist that turns the film into something of a whodunnit. The handful of telegenic twentysomethings carted to the island for the weekend of their dreams quickly realise that it’s more like a nightmare, and that they must figure out who’s fulfilling their own fantasy of torturing the captives.

It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that the culprit hides among their ranks, though we’d have no way of knowing that because the covert villain inexplicably maintains their ruse even when depicted alone. It’s a low-level form of narrative cheating, a tacit lie about someone’s innocence in the guise of misdirection.

The lead-up assembles the lucky “contest winners” and sends them off to play out their deepest desires, with the action cross-cutting between what’re essentially four exceptionally plain episodes of the show. The original broadcasts indulged the odder side of the late ’70s with colourful premises enacted by an unending parade of big-name guest stars; each segment of the film cuts an already thin cliché into quarters.

Melanie (Lucy Hale) seeks revenge on a girlhood bully and lands in a torture-porn chamber that quickly exceeds her control; Gwen (Maggie Q) gets a second chance to make the right decision on a proposal she regrets turning down; wannabe soldier Patrick (Austin Stowell) plays war with his veteran hero daddy; stepbrothers Brax and JD (Jimmy O Yang and Ryan Hansen) descend into unbridled hedonism, realising too late that they’re reaping the benefits of a hotly contested drug empire. The Brendan Fraser-led remake of Bedazzled beat them to the punch on that last one 20 years ago.

If Wadlow and co-writers Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs can be said to have anything to say, it would be one of an array of platitudes not limited to “holding on to vengeance is unhealthy” and “don’t feel guilty about starting a fire if it was purely an accident.” The series structured itself like a collection of clever monkey’s paw short stories, with a wallop of poetic irony waiting at the end.

No such luck this time around, as their four harrowing ordeals converge in a climax made of supernatural mumbo-jumbo completely out of joint with everything that’s preceded it. The island’s enigmatic keeper (Michael Peña) and his pliant assistant (Parisa Fitz-Henley) hold secrets, but as they are not particularly interesting secrets, they’re hardly worth knowing at all.

In between glances at their watch, a viewer may find themselves pondering why this motion picture exists. It’s not as if a vast Fantasy Island fandom had been clamouring for a washed-out, bastardisation of the TV version – and even if they had, the film would’ve alienated them by abandoning all that made the show sing.

What’s left is a generic exercise in studio horror with little to distinguish it beyond the proper nouns in which it wraps itself. That, and a truly noxious tag that explains the origin of once-and-future servant Tattoo’s name. It is, to be fair, not quite as excruciating as when this happened to Han Solo.

Published 4 Mar 2020

Tags: Jeff Wadlow Lucy Hale Michael Peña

Anticipation.

The TV show was fun enough, so sure, why not?

Enjoyment.

Ah. That’s why not.

In Retrospect.

Not booking a return trip any time soon.

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