Fantasy Island, the late ’70s/early ’80s TV series that made the catchphrase “The plane! The plane!” wildly popular, heads to the big screen thanks to the fright masters at Blumhouse. As is their want, Blumhouse has warped the show into a horror movie – a move that’s not entirely unprecedented. The original show had plenty of supernatural elements – there was even an episode featuring the Devil. And the old adage of “be careful what you wish for” has been exploited time and time again for scary purposes, from W. W. Jacobs’s classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw” to the Wishmaster and Leprachaun film franchises.
But a bargain-basement Wishmaster sequel is high-art when compared to what director Jeff Wadlow and company have cooked-up here.
After winning a contest, several strangers end up on the fantabulous Fantasy Island, a photo-ready locale with beautiful beaches and big-ass bungalows, all run by the mysterious Mr. Roarke, played by a subdued, possibly sedated Michael Peña – the charming, typically wonderful actor seems just as bored to be in this movie as we are watching it. Roarke promises his guests that all of their fantasies will come true, no matter how impossible they seem. Hard-drinking Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge against a girl who bullied her in high school. Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be a soldier. Gwen (Maggie Q) wants a second chance with her ex, whom she’s still in love with. And brothers (and painfully unfunny comic relief characters) JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want to…uh…party a lot, I guess? It’s unclear, but their fantasy ends up involving sex and weed, and scenes where they talk endlessly about sex and weed.
Roarke, and the island, grant all of these wishes, but of course, they come at a terrible price (cue the ominous music). Melanie’s revenge involves Hostel-like torture. Patrick’s war fantasy turns into something both dangerous and painfully personal. Gwen’s wish actually turns out pretty well, all things considered, but she’s still unhappy. And JD and Brax end up being threatened by drug dealers wearing Dark Knight-style clown masks. Why are these characters wearing masks? No reason, other than someone, somewhere, said, “Hey, that might look cool.” It doesn’t.
All things considered, this isn’t a terrible set-up for a scary movie, but Fantasy Island is so nonchalant, so lifeless, and so lethargic that nothing here lands. The comedy isn’t funny, the horror isn’t scary, and the twists aren’t the least bit surprising. It doesn’t help that Wadlow’s direction is painfully casual, bordering on incompetent. At one point, the director frames a shot with an extremely out-of-focus blade in the foreground and someone’s terrified face in the background. Was Wadlow going for a De Palma-style split diopter shot here, and unable to figure out how to make it work? Or is this shot really supposed to look like utter shit? You decide!