Oh boy, another classic television IP making its big screen debut. This has been a pretty bad place for films to mine their material. Between CHiPS, Starsky and Hutch, and Bewitched there has been a lot of so so to terrible films. (Note: I will defend the 90’s adaptation of The Brady Bunch. That film is genuinely funny.) So here we have Fantasy Island, a horror bend on a TV series that has been out of the cultural zeitgeist for a while. I have to be honest, the only reason I have a passing knowledge of the series is from other films or TV shows referencing it. Do general audiences know or even care about the source material?
Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena) runs an island where all your wildest fantasies can come true. A group of visitors (Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, and Ryan Hansen) who’ve won a contest are now ready to have the dream vacation they’ve always dreamed of. That is until the dark side of wish fulfillment rears its ugly head. This is a well worn trope that became super popular once W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw was published over a century ago. Kids programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark? and most other horror anthology series have used it to teach valuable lessons to its viewers. That said, if done right it can be used to craft an effective and smart thriller.
“Once you begin a fantasy, you must see it through to its natural conclusion.”
Here’s the weird part, the script isn’t terrible in the typical way that most winter horror films are. It’s got a competent idea and executes it decently, but it’s kind of both overcooked and undercooked. Some ideas are way too simple for their own good. Why did X event happen? Because we need to get to Z, so shut up. In the meantime it feels like the film is trying to be cleverer than it actually is. And yet, in spite of this I actually enjoyed how the story pulled itself together. That makes Fantasy Island better than expected. There is one issue that still sticks out like a sore thumb to me, but we’ll get to that below.
The cast is all pretty solid and a higher caliber than a project like this would typically attract. Pena as always does a great job with whatever material he’s given. I’m thankful he’s continued to push his talents with every role he takes. Maggie Q does well with what she’s given and probably has the most emotional heavy lifting of the cast. Yang and Hansen are there to provide laughs and for the most part succeed, although there are a few moments that land like dull thuds. Stowell has some tough moments, but surprisingly he comes through pulling his story together. I was pretty surprised to see Portia Doubleday in the supporting cast. I would’ve figured after the success of Mr. Robot she’d be primed for bigger and better roles than this. It was also a real treat to see the always entertaining Michael Rooker pop up. We need more Rooker!
“The problem with having it all is that usually someone else wants it too.”
(SPOILERS) Now we come to the character of Melanie (Lucy Hale) and this is where the wrinkles in the film come up. I always have a problem when a character we’ve spent time with away from other characters reveals who they really are. Melanie is revealed to be the villain after we’ve seen her mortified and clueless in scenes where she doesn’t need to be. And this is always a tough twist to get right. Rose in Get Out never has a moment alone where she acts out of character before her reveal and that’s why it works so well. Here I rolled my eyes and felt like this reveal was an afterthought more than an organic plot point. (END SPOILERS)
In the end Fantasy Island looks pretty and has some solid acting, but kind of collapses under some plot problems. It was better than I expected, but I wasn’t expecting much.
Overall Score: 2/5
The Shameless Plugs
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