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My not-so-beautiful dark twisted ‘Fantasy Island’

February 19, 2020
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Anyone who watched the campy classic Ricardo Montalbon-starring ‘70s TV show “Fantasy Island” or the short-lived two-decades-later Malcolm McDowell reboot has to recognize the creepy potential of the conceit. A place where fantasies come true, only in unexpected ways? There’s so much there with which to work.

Jason Blum and the folks at Blumhouse certainly thought so. Hence, we get “Fantasy Island,” a horror exploration of that classic concept. It’s a natural fit – Blum and his crew have proven time and again that they are capable of turning these sorts of ideas into quality genre fare. Unfortunately, no one bats 1.000; this latest film is one of the rare misfires from the production company.

This incarnation of “Fantasy Island” – directed by Jeff Wadlow from a script he co-wrote with Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach – never manages to develop anything worthwhile from the rich soil of the source material. Instead, we get a bunch of recycled tropes and cheap scares, a low-rent mélange of monkey’s paw clichés and lazy storytelling. There are a few brief glimpses of the film this could have been, but for the most part, there’s nothing here – filmmaking fantasy meeting cold, stark mismanaged reality.

A group of strangers arrive at a mysterious resort known only as Fantasy Island. They have won a contest for an all-expenses paid visit; all they are asked to do is celebrate their experience on social media. There’s party girl Melanie (Lucy Hale, “Trouble”) and introspective Elena (Maggie Q, TV’s “Designated Survivor”), as well as the uptight Randall (Austin Stowell, TV’s “Catch-22”) and bro-y brothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen, “Like a Boss”) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang, TV’s “Silicon Valley”).

Upon their arrival, they are met by concierge Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley, TV’s “Midnight, Texas”), who tells them to await the arrival of their host. Upon his arrival, Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena, “Jexi”) reveals to them that their fantasies await. But while the guests have no idea how those fantasies will be fulfilled, all of them assume some sort of gimmick – actors or VR or holograms or the like.

All of them are wrong.

Melanie wants to exact revenge on the girl who tormented her in high school. Elena wants to undo her biggest regret and changer her answer to a very big question. Randall wants to be a soldier like his deceased hero dad. And Bradley and Brax want to live the big-money baller lifestyle. But while they all get to live out the fantasy they’ve chosen, it isn’t long before they realize that there’s nothing false about what they’re experiencing. These fantasies are real – and they’re developing in unexpected (and unwanted) ways.

Every one of them is left to confront the devolution of their fantasy as it plays out not how they imagined, but takes increasingly dark and twisted turns. It is no longer about living out a fantasy, but simply surviving as their choices turn against them. They must combat the dangers around them and confront the bleak truths that these fantasies have revealed.

Seriously – this is such fallow ground for a horror movie. There’s so much potential here for an exceptional piece of horror filmmaking, with this notion of fantasies gone awry. Instead, we get a movie that is largely genre boilerplate, driven by formulaic building blocks and a little bit of gore. Blumhouse is usually smarter than this, finding new and interesting ways to approach horror. Instead, we get … this. While there are a few spots where it works, the overall experience is deeply unsatisfying. The entire film reeks of missed opportunity.

Look, I’m not here for flawless plotting – I’m more than willing to forgive a few holes so long as the filmmakers keep things interesting. But you’ve got to give me SOMETHING. And this movie fails to clear even that relatively low bar. With all of this possibility, we instead get bland and unconvincing storytelling; it’s a dull and disengaged mess. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but you know – something.

The performances are middling, with a couple of exceptions. Maggie Q is the best of the guests as Elena, offering some semblance of character development. She’s the closest to interesting of the bunch. Pena’s next on the list, although I definitely wanted more from him. The rest of the cast’s work lands with a resounding meh. Hansen and Yang are both far better than the material they’ve been given, while Stowell is essentially a non-entity. Hale is transparent and shrill and surprisingly unlikeable. Oh, and Michael Rooker is here as a mystery man on the island, a non-guest whose tough-guy weirdness is unintentionally hilarious, yet still one of the most watchable performances in the film.

Ultimately, “Fantasy Island” suffers because it utterly fails to follow through on its promise. The possibilities are practically infinite, yet we get this bland, derivative pile of mediocrity. It’s not what we generally expect from Blumhouse, although I suppose you can’t win them all. Still, if this is the best you can do in terms of your fantasies, you are sadly lacking in imagination.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 19 February 2020 08:51

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