I want to open this review by saying how appreciative of Blumhouse, coming from someone who lived through a long period of time when the horror genre was largely dead. While not all of their films are big hits, and this year’s “Fantasy Island” is no exception, the horror genre deserves to live, and it seems like Blumhouse has found a way to make producing them sustainable (greenlight films with interesting premises, but with shoestring budgets).
My girlfriend and I picked “Fantasy Island” over the likes of “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” at the theater, mostly because she had some interest in it, and I had no interest in its competition. I’ll watch Harley Quinn and Sonic eventually, probably when they come to streaming, but I didn’t feel like they warranted their $10 price of admission (maybe they’re worth it for matinee prices). And even though I admit “Fantasy Island” is a nonsensical, even bad film, it gave us plenty to talk about and discuss long after we left the theater, which is exactly what you want out of a bad movie.
“Fantasy Island” focuses on a group of vacationers who come to the titular Fantasy Island in search of getting their fantasies granted, which they all assume will be either fake or the result of hallucinogens. The island is curated by Mr. Rourke (Michael Pena), an eccentric middle-aged man who relies off of internet reviews and travel articles to lure people to the island.
We have an ensemble cast of Lucie Hale as 20-something Melanie Cole, Austin Stowell as former policeman and soldier wannabe Patrick Sullivan, Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen as obnoxious step brothers Brax and J.D. Weaver, and “Designated Survivor” aluma Maggie Q as businesswoman Gwen Olsen.
Melanie’s fantasy is to get revenge at her childhood tormentor, Sloane Maddison (Portia Doubleday); J.D. and Brax just want to party; Patrick wants to be able to join the service and play out his soldier fantasy (his dad gave his life as a soldier, and he never got the chance to enlist and follow his legacy); and Gwen wants to go back and fix a mistake she made in the past, which Roarke assumes is turning down the only man she felt a connection with, her ex-boyfriend Alan (Portia Doubleday).
From the get go, everyone can tell something is off, from eery drips of water (or blood) appearing in every fantasy, and the characters overlap in each other’s fantasies. And we learn that they all have something in common; they’re not all at the island just by chance.
And yeah, this is a horror movie, so there’s danger. Turns out there is a sinister power on the island that is making their fantasies real, but also hostile, and yeah, more than a few characters die before all is right. And it’s executed so-so, specifically in the following areas:
1. The rules of the island are inconsistent. It’s never clear what the apparitions the island conjures can and cannot do, or if they can or cannot be killed, which destroyed just about all of the tension the film could’ve had.
2. Most of the characters are one-note, with the exception of Rourke, Melanie and Gwen, who are two-note.
3. There is a major twist at the end that is film-breaking, that will not hold up on a second watch. It’s one of those twists that are only surprising because it creates plot holes and inconsistencies with the first half of the movie, specifically with Melanie’s scenes.
4. For a film named “Fantasy Island,” it’s monsters and kills are surprisingly unimaginative and by the numbers.
5. They play with the interesting idea of being in someone else’s fantasy (i.e. not be the hero of their own story), but it only serves to complicate and confuse the plot.
There are some bright spots though, such as:
1. The cinematography does the job, and there are some absolutely gorgeous shots of the island. It’s probably the only thing I’ll remember about this movie.
2. Michael Pena carries this movie. Seriously, I know this guy has been acting professionally since 1994, but I was convinced that he was destined to be type-cast in comedic roles after his appearances in the “Ant-Man” movies as Paul Rudd’s funny sidekick. He blew those expectations out of the water with his excellent performance in season 1 of “Narcos: Mexico” (a show I regard as good or better than “Breaking Bad”) as DEA Agent Kiki Camarena, and his performance in this film further broke that mold. I just wish he had more to do.
3. Maggie Q is OK, and no one has an overtly terrible performance. The script and direction just wasn’t there.
“Fantasy Island” is just a fun, bad movie. It’s well below average, but you can get some enjoyment out of it.
“Fantasy Island” gets a 4/10