If you won a vacation to an island where all your fantasies were promised to come true, would you go? Any rational person would hop on a plane immediately to seek out that, arguably, much deserved vacay. Ignore the fact that you haven’t signed up for anything or that some rando would-be eccentric island owner knows how to reach you anywhere. Nah. You’re going to go to FANTASY ISLAND. It’s essentially this scenario that sparks the beginning of the latest film from Blumhouse. And, like all promised fantasies that are too good to be true, this one belly flops before sinking in the water.
In Blumhouse’s new spin on FANTASY ISLAND, we leap headfirst into the action as we watch a young woman (Portia Doubleday) being chased through the trees. She is pursued by men as she tries to make a run for it. She finds a house and immediately seeks out a phone. Upon discovering that the man on the phone is in on whatever is happening to her, she has been pulled away. This is our introduction to the horror before we cut to more friendly fare. It is now day time and we are introduced to five individuals as they arrive at the island via seaplane. Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale), Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell), Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang), and DJ Weaver (Ryan Hansen) have all seemingly won a contest to take part on an adventure on the island where they can live out their wildest fantasies. The enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) appears to explain what’s what to them about the intricacies, but it’s really his conversations with Gwen that help inform the audience of the nuances that are interwoven in making fantasies become a reality. Soon, all of the guests are off to see their fantasies through but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that things are a bit odd on the island.
This is where we get to learn that something is really up about all of these fantasy fulfillment scenarios. We also get to learn more about the individual characters, their traumas, and their lives in the process. Brax and DJ want to live out the fantasy of having it all without understanding the true repercussions of that. Patrick wants to be a soldier alongside his deceased father, which illustrates to the audience how the island can work around life and death. Gwen’s biggest regret initially appears to be never saying yes to the man she once loved and having a family with him. Melanie Cole’s biggest fantasy is getting revenge on a childhood bully, Sloane Maddison, who we discover is the mysterious girl running for her life in the opening scene. As each individual starts piecing together the puzzles about the island and how it delivers these fantasies, the horror elements start kicking into high gear. And, from that point on, the audience is taken on a whirlwind ride with them as they see their fantasies to their conclusions.
Almost immediately, you could tell that the story is an ambitious one. You have five individuals who have been invited to come onto this FANTASY ISLAND to live out their wildest fantasies. Whatever is their heart’s desire will be carried out until the fantasy reaches its conclusion. Split into four groups, Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach, and Jillian Jacobs end up splitting the storyline into four separate paths that then have the arduous task of eventually coming back around to line up once more. In this bear of a logistical as well as written challenge, I do think the team managed to pull it off somewhat. Seriously, I do have to give a major shoutout to Wadlow as both the director and the writer for trying to deal with the logistical shenanigans that this script handed to him. With that being said, however, the overall plot requires an extraordinary trust in the audience and their ability to suspend disbelief. And I am not entirely certain that the crafting of the script as of release is enough for the bulk of the audience to suspend that disbelief successfully.
Part of this may have to do with the limitations of a PG-13 rating and what I believe to be the writers working around that in the script. The subject of PG-13 ratings in the horror genre has faced a resurgence in recent months as another obnoxious controversy. However, we can’t deny that the rating can place limitations on what kind of effects are used, how much blood there is, etc. In this particular instance with FANTASY ISLAND, I do think that the emotional stakes and seriousness of the horror of these fantasies playing out aren’t developed enough for a regular horror viewer. The stakes and horror read as a bit sanitized. However, one needs to consider that those of us who watch horror regularly may not be the target audience. Like Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark last year, the set up of the film reads as being more for a teenage crowd. And, while the film might not be enough for me or the more hardcore horror fans out there, it will be enough for the teens and, perhaps, fans of the original series who don’t need all that in-your-face horror.
Speaking of the original series, the balance between comedy and the dark, horror elements is definitely present in the film. Now, I’ll be perfectly honest. I haven’t watched the original series or seen the remake series. This interpretation of FANTASY ISLAND is going to be an introduction to my generation and Generation Z who hadn’t known about the original series. However, a cursory search about the series will inform anyone of the potential for darkness that was present throughout the course of the series’ entirety. While some fans of the original series may shirk at the horror-elements that might have been added to this interpretation of the film, I do have to implore fans of the original series to understand that you just might not remember the weird line between comedy and horror the series toed. And, to add onto my note about the original series, there are various homages added throughout the course of the film that I think fans of the original series will pick up on. Mr. Roarke’s white suit comes to mind and, if you make it all the way to the closing scene of the film, there’s a very substantial homage from the original series that the writers cleverly worked into the script.
Any script can be elevated with the proper performances from its actors. What helps, but also hinders FANTASY ISLAND‘s already tenuous believability are the performances. And, dare I say, they are mixed. Maggie Q is the rock and, essentially, the audience’s eyes in this as she appears to be one of the group of five who is questioning the entirety of the film. And her being rooted in reality really helps keep us immersed in the questionable fantasy that we’re supposed to accept. However, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum is Lucy Hale’s Melanie. Playing against type as an adult who hasn’t gotten past her past trauma, you really want to root for her character to grow and change. However, I feel Hale was just miscast. When one takes a step back and takes in the entirety of Melanie’s character arc, the emotional nuances that would deliver the necessary gut punches to the audience are lost-in-translation due in part to Hale’s lack of subtlety and general one-notedness in her performance. Portia Doubleday makes the most of her time as Sloane, providing nuances in a role that is meant to showcase growth. While I hate to say this, when in scenes together, it was hard not to focus more on Doubleday’s performance than Hale’s in part due to how interesting her performance made her character out to be.
Austin Stowell tries his best to elevate his role as Patrick, who seems trapped in that would-be hero archetype. At times, his earnestness is a little cringy but you have to appreciate the effort he put into the role. Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen are fricking hilarious together and really serve to keep things light for the most part. However, it’s when things go rough that their performances help to remind the audience of the seriousness of the downside of fantasies being fulfilled. Although his appearance was brief and mostly expositional, Michael Rooker managed to make his role undoubtedly his as he provided both the creep-factor and necessary information to help the audience and characters try to understand the power behind the island. However, his role’s inclusion created a massive plothole that created confusion and elicited questions as to why he was still remaining on the island. And then there’s Michael Peña’s Mr. Roarke. Although I really liked his role and how he managed to create this friendly, enigmatic feel, I really wanted to know more about Roarke because something felt missing. How much of that had to do with Peña’s performance, I’m not entirely sure. But I do know that the mystery of Roarke will continue to linger in my mind for awhile.
Overall, I think the effort from the team to breathe new life into a once-beloved series was admirable. However, I think it might have been too ambitious of a decision to adopt a Television Series with such a substantial mythos into a movie. There are a handful of plot holes and, because the film has four path points rather than the two typically found in an episode of the original series, the characters aren’t as fully realized as they could have been. Instead, the bulk of them read as tropes. But, taking a step back and looking at the film in its entirety, I also have to acknowledge that I am arguably not the target audience for this. This film feels and reads like a horror film to whet the appetites of those new to horror like teenagers. And that’s perfectly okay. It doesn’t need to be perfect. If you ignore the slight cheese factor interwoven into it, the tropes, and just go along with the journey, it’s a weirdly funny ride if you allow yourself to not take it seriously.
Come take part in your own mental vacay with FANTASY ISLAND, which is now playing in theaters.