Fantasy Island (15)
Review: David Stephens
“Boss! Da plane! Da plane!” *Cue twinkling 70s theme music and stock footage of a seaplane landing in a studio lake*. If you’re of a particular generation, or just up on your TV nerd knowledge, that instantly means something to you and images of Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize in white tuxedos will be in your head. The Aaron Spelling TV production (pitched initially as a dirty joke) ran from 1977 for 7 seasons, equating to about 150 episodes in all. During its run, it saw a plethora of US TV actors act out their deepest (but still tame and legal) wishes on a private tropical island. And of course, this being US commercial 70s TV, they all learnt an important moral lesson along the way. There was a short-lived revival of the show during the late 90s, but of course, here’s the inevitable 10s reboot… and it’s a genre film from Blumhouse. The official full title of the film (as seen on the BBFC certificate at the start) is actually “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island”, just to rub it in. It’s directed by Jeff Wadlow (“Truth or Dare”) and features a decent cast (Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Portia Doubleday, Michael Rooker). It was released in the US last month, to less-than-great reviews and has only just opened in UK cinemas. So, we channel the spirit of 80s pop band “Tight Fit” (google ‘em) and take a look.
Five strangers arrive (by a plane of course) at the titular tropical island. They’ve all won competitions to have their dreams come true, and Mr Roarke (a very subdued Pena) is duty-bound to be their host and organise their wishes. So as the protagonists start to live party lifestyles and revisit old flames, they assume that the “fantasies” are manufactured and ultimately fake. But when Melanie Cole (Hale) finds her wish for revenge on a childhood bully takes an extreme turn, the dark magic of the island seems to manifest itself and put all their lives in danger…
To be honest, it’s not too much of a stretch to “reimagine” the TV series as a horror movie. But then again, it could also be easily reworked into a mystery thriller, romantic drama, or gross-out comedy. The problem here is that it barely qualifies as a horror, and beyond the (*sigh*) usual cheap jump-scares there’s not much of an attempt to be one. Bar some very slight supernatural SFX (usually black liquid running from eye sockets), and the occasional threat of violence, the film’s plot and individual “fantasies” could have run on the original TV series without much needing to be censored! Yup, it’s PG-rated to that level, and feels far closer to original series than a scary Blumhouse offering! How did that happen? We won’t go into the old PG vs R-rated horror debates, but for this idea to work, it needed to up the game as far as edginess and graphic content go. Instead, we get lame wishes like a repentant dude wanting to play soldier, a businesswoman regretting turning down a proposal, and two stepbrothers wanting to drink and get laid. Not exactly thrill-a-minute is it? The only fantasy that shows promise is the “revenge” sub-plot, but that soon turns from “Hostel” to “Disney” as the torture turns out to be tasers, toilet-water, and social media. Yikes.
It just doesn’t work on barely any level. Yes, there are later plot developments that try to make it intriguing and exciting, but that doesn’t help the dull first act and to be honest some of the climactic reveals before the final curtain have that distinct whiff of last-minute rewrite. There’s a narrative swerve that honestly doesn’t make any sense in hindsight. It feels like someone left the screenplay out of the studio safe overnight, and M. Night Shyamalan wandered past and decided to have a go at it. The fact that Dave Bautista dropped out of the filming at some point is probably a good indicator of the production success-rate. The party-dudes schtick is instantly annoying (and feels dated), along with the sickly melodramatic lost-loves storylines. There’s nothing wrong with rebooting material for a new generation, but if the idea here was to up-the-terror content, then it misses out, and it’s hard to identify who the target audience is. There’s nothing to warrant the screaming skull on the posters, and the nearest we get to out-and-out horror tropes are the motifs of dripping water (not blood), and an ambiguous crispy spectre that occasionally appears for a “scare”.
Pena is missing his usual charm in a paper-thin role, and Maggie Q seems to think that she’s in a serious romantic drama. Still, except for Michael Rooker (wasted in an extended cameo with a whole lump of exposition), nobody seems to be comfortable with this blobby mix of the supernatural and nostalgia. To add insult to injury, there’s another plot device at the very end that is trying to be smart but just feels groan-worthy and a slap-in-the-face to fans of the original series. The only neat throwback detail is the tinny version of the cheesy TV theme tune that deservedly plays in the elevator. Otherwise, despite the beautiful location work (Navodo Bay in Fiji), this has nothing to offer fans of the genre or classic TV, even if you’re curious to see what was done with the source material. It’s a good job we saw this the same day that we caught “The Hunt”; otherwise, we’d be selling our shares in Blumhouse…