Review: Fantasy Island

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Stars: Lucy Hale, Michael Peña, Maggie Q

Blumhouse churn out modestly budgeted horror pictures at a rate of knots and they all make money. As a result they can afford their variable hit ratio. Granted, more often than not they come up with the goods (perhaps only A24 know their audience better), but it also means there’ll inevitably be some stinkers.

Lucy Hale now has the dubious honor of appearing in the company’s two worst offerings. A couple of years ago she got to ring-lead the always-lamentable Truth or Dare. Now, she’s one of the hapless souls coerced to a tropical paradise in service of Jeff Wadlow’s odious Fantasy Island reboot. But hey, at least she got out of having her face on the movie’s artwork this time.

It’s okay, Lucy, it’ll make repressing this one much easier.

A ragtag bunch of awfully written and painfully acted American nitwits arrive on a magical island somewhere having won an unknown competition, obviously.

This tenuous set-up (which even beats out the one in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer) gets us ready for this movie’s first onslaught of exposition. Around 40% of the dialogue here is exposition, so get used to it. The island’s custodian is the mysterious Mr Roarke (Michael Peñaphoning it in). Roarke can grant the lucky winners of whatever contest their ultimate fantasy. But the kicker, as always, is that ol’ chestnut “be careful what you wish for”. Playing out your deepest desires to their ‘inevitable conclusion’ is apparently never what its cracked up to be…

Wadlow’s diabolical film comes from the same writers as Truth or Dare which he also manhandled to the screen, so it all starts to make some terrible kind of sense. That’s in fact the only sense in a picture that tries its hardest to cram an entire season’s worth of LOST plot twists into 110 minutes. It’s a disaster. For nearly two goddamn hours we get to endure characters with less dimensions than your average guest on The Big Bang Theory as they hurl their life stories at one another, while perpetually fleeing… you name it. Drug dealers, torturers, the perfect marriage, themselves. If it can chase you, it’s going to on Fantasy Island.

Powered by a mystical thingamajig housed in a secret underground wellspring (wasn’t kidding about LOST), the island can move you through time, bring people back to life… it’s abilities are seemingly limitless. Which already extinguishes any dramatic tension. It also, handily, throws these writers limitless get-out-of-jail free cards for whenever they back themselves into a corner. Which is often. Because the rule is there are no rules, everything becomes meaningless. It’s not even worth picking at the holes in the convoluted Swiss cheese narrative. You’ll have given up long before this lot finish scampering to the laughable third act frenzy. Scooby Doo never had to suffer so many boneheaded reveals.

Michael Rooker is in this, for some reason. He’s wasted. Maggie Q is here, presumably looking for her career. She may instead have sunk it. It’s possible that Portia Doubleday gets out of this in tact, but maybe she’s just the best of a bad bunch? At the other end of the scale – for sure – are Jimmy O Yang and Ryan Hansen, whose half-brotherly bro-mance makes them seem like new inductees of the Bad Place on TV’s The Good Place. Chidi would never be able to save these two assholes.

The Fantasy Island TV series played out as a kind of anthology show. Each episode focusing on just two different guests whose ideas of perfect happiness would then go ironically awry. Wadlow’s film cuts between four scenarios. Come the end you’ll realise why it kind of has to, but this constant channel-hopping decimates even the most cursory concept of tension. The film is only ever saying “meanwhile…” and none of it’s various escapades are remotely worth your attention. And things only get worse whenever anyone opens their mouth to speak, which is often.

Technically the film is (just about) passable, i.e. its not wholly inept in terms of the basics (framing, coverage etc) which is at least a step up from Truth or Dare, but when these are the only points left to give out then you really know you’re reaching.

Didn’t really tell you who most of these poor actors are playing, did I? Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter because please don’t go they’ll make another one.


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