I can’t say I’ve ever watched a single episode of Fantasy Island, the 1977-84 television series that inspired the film we’re about to delve into here. In the show, the eponymous island was a mysterious place situated somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Owned by the enigmatic white-suited weirdo Mr Roarke, people could pay $50,000 to fly to the island as guests in order to have their utmost fantasies made a reality, with the help of Roarke and his loyal diminutive sidekick Tattoo. I try not to be one for judging anything before I’ve given it a fair watch, but I’d be lying if I were to say that I don’t think it sounds incredibly cheesy and stupid. Harmless enough though, I suppose, a kitschy bit of daytime escapism with ridiculous soap opera sensibilities never did anybody any real harm. I’d also be willing to bet my last penny that it’s a shite sight better than this recently released feature-length horror adaptation. It’s one of those films that I can only envision getting the green light via all boardroom occupants agreeing to fuck up a film in every conceivable manner, ‘for the lulz’ if nothing else.
The movie focuses on five guests who have come to the island, arriving in an amphibious aircraft as in the show, but with no Herve Villechaize shouting ‘Ze plane! Ze plane!’ this time around, just a lady named Julia (Parisa Fitz Henley) who spies the plane with an elated expression before sprinting up the beachfront. The five are Patrick (Austin Stowell), stepbrothers J.D. & Brax (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang), Gwen (Maggie Q) and Melanie (Lucy Hale). They are greeted by Mr Roarke (Michael Pena), who explains to them that the island has been tailored to accommodate their deepest desires to a tee, but he warns them that the fantasies might not play out the way the guest expects, but will always play out the way that they’re supposed to (Sounds to me like a writer somewhere isn’t properly acquainted with the definition and concept of the term ‘fantasy’, but hey ho).
The fantasies are all deeply bland and uninspired for the most part. There’s a long-held wish to wreak vengeance on a high school bully, a fantasy of joining the military, a desire to correct a past declining of a marriage proposal and, imaginatively, ‘having it all’. Like a hackneyed version of the ludicrous yet vastly superior Wishmaster, the fantasies all begin to twist and turn in nightmarishly cruel and ironic ways, leaving our hapless protagonists fighting to stay alive and discover the mysteries behind the island, Roarke and how the hell they are going to make it home in one piece. Many red herrings and surprises permeate it, and none of them even begin to be effective or have any satisfactory exposition whatsoever.
The acting is just..rubbish. Even Michael Pena, who I’ve usually liked in most things, has all the charisma of a deck chair as the quietly villainous Roarke. Nobody else brings anything substantive to the table, with Hansen and Yang particularly insufferable as brothers J.D. and Brax, their characters being the quintessential stereotypes of frat-boy knobheads. Arrogantly and ignorantly gallivanting around with cocktails and leis around their necks as they await their ‘having it all’ fantasy to materialise, we come to find that it (shockingly) consists of a mansion with a neverending pool party, replete with scantily clad babes, ‘bros’, booze and drugs. These two are clearly intended as comic relief, and it couldn’t be more horrendously executed.
The plot has more holes in it than a colander that’s been used for target practice. The supernatural rules of the island appear to change their dynamics depending on which character’s fantasy storyline is occupying the screen, something that would be irritating enough if it also didn’t seem like 4 entirely different films all crammed into a two-hour running time. The characterisation and narrative developments within all respective fantasy scenarios are just sooo baaad, and it’s actually something of a disgrace that this is being marketed as a horror film. Even jump scares (which I utterly despise) don’t get a decently calculated look-in, and what the filmmakers appear to believe are endearing twists and moments of palpable tension amount to nothing more than the overwhelming urge to pulverize one’s head with a brick wall.
Badly acted, badly written, boring, unfunny and, most crucially, not in the least bit scary, Fantasy Island functions as a consummate waste of time for anybody maintaining a body temperature somewhere roughly in the 90s. $7 million that could have been spent on homeless shelters, cancer charities, food banks or Tommy Wiseau’s latest idea was instead figurately set ablaze creating this unmitigated dross. Jeff Wadlow seriously needs to do something else as he cannot write or direct for toffee, his previous films all being critical washouts albeit with some moderate financial success (I do hope many punters were fumingly demanding their refunds, I certainly would be). Owen Gleiberman summarised Wadlow’s film Truth Or Dare as follows: ”The movie isn’t scary, it isn’t gripping, it isn’t fun, and it isn’t fueled by any sort of clever compulsion. It’s just a strangely arduous exercise that feels increasingly frantic and arbitrary as it goes along”. This is also a perfect nutshell of Fantasy Island, and my intuition tells me it will serve as an apt statement for all of Wadlow’s future projects. If you’re at a loose end during lockdown, have things to stuff your face and become inebriated with and want to laugh at some thorough ineptitude whilst doing so, hunt it down. It’ll probably be more worthwhile when you’re utterly shitfaced, I wish I had been.