Rebranding old TV shows and turning them into feature-length films isn’t new, but it’s getting harder to understand the choices of some of the IPs, as the public’s familiarity with them seems minor. Fantasy Island (2020) is the latest attempt to milk the nostalgia teat – and Blumhouse and director Jeff Wadlow added a horror twist. It’s the film’s attempt to make it a twist that really doesn’t click, as the film flounders in the climax. There is some good to embrace here, and the franchise potential is actually more compelling than the entirety of this entry.
Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) welcomes Melanie (Lucy Hale), Elena (Maggie Q), Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and his brother Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), and Randall (Austin Stowell) to Fantasy Island after they win a competition. Each individual gets one fantasy, and they must see it play out to its logical conclusion, as Mr. Roarke informs them. It seems like a dream come true, but sometimes dreams turn to nightmares…and you realize you’re sitting in another winter Blumhouse horror film.
Jimmy O. Yang has been a reliable comedic presence in everything I’ve seen him in – which isn’t much just yet – but he’s great on “Silicon Valley” and in his small role in Crazy Rich Asians (2018). He and Michael Peña are definitely my favorite parts of this film, though Peña rarely gets enough to do in the movies I’ve seen him in recently. That’s definitely one of the film’s biggest weaknesses: it doesn’t take full advantage of its biggest talent. That’s actually why I think a second film could be more engaging if they allow Mr. Roarke to have a bigger presence.
Not to take away from Maggie Q or Hale’s performances – I think they do what the film asks them to do, but I think much of what it asks of them is straight-up stupid. In fact, of all the fantasies granted, Melanie’s is the darkest, as she is seeking revenge on her high school bully. Elena is looking to fix her biggest regret, Bradley and Brax just want to party, and Randall wishes to be a soldier, as he regrets not getting to serve in the armed forces. As with many wish-fulfillment horror films, none of their stories play out as they may initially expect, as they deviate from the source material. However, the horror never feels like horror. It is certainly possible to create a sense of dread even in the middle of the day or in a beautiful exotic place, as Ari Aster proved last year with Midsommar. The only negative feelings I ever got from this movie was boredom and irritation.
Ultimately, Fantasy Island isn’t the worst film released by Blumhouse in recent years, but it is far from good. There is enough going on, and if you like contrived plot-points that are sold as a twist, then you may enjoy this film. For me, I saw enough to not hate it at least. Fantasy Island earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating as a mostly dismal February continues to drain my life force.