All Fantasy Island (2020) Did Was Make Me Wish I Was Watching a Better Movie
Title: Fantasy Island
First Wide Release: February 12th, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Writer: Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Runtime: 109 Minutes
Starring: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale
Where to Watch: $5.99 on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Apple, Youtube
Five guests are flown to a strange and mysterious island where they can live out their greatest fantasies. A dark reboot of the 1970s series of the same name, Fantasy Island sets out to show us the dark side of having your deepest fantasy realized. The island’s guests discover all of this and more as they watch their dreams morph into a twisted fight for survival against the background of what should be paradise on Earth. Fantasy Island is directed by Jeff Wadlow who teamed up with Blumhouse just two years earlier for Truth or Dare, which also stars Lucy Hale. The similarities abound. Fantasy Island manages to be a true mess of a film, much like Truth or Dare, while still being gut-bustingly entertaining.
The script for Fantasy Island somehow manages to be outrageous yet unimaginative. It combines many half-baked ideas that alone could make for solid scripts with some care, but together create an hour and almost fifty-minute monstrosity that could have ended at least three times before dragging another inane twist into the mix. The rules of Fantasy Island seem to morph into whatever is needed to segue into the next scare sequence. Fantasy Island relies heavily on exposition and clichés to chug along to the credits. Normally, I am pretty forgiving but there were too many moments that had me shaking my head in disbelief, the most egregious being a jaw-droppingly stupid and unrealistic "the gang splits up" moment in a cave system. Overall, it is a fun but insipid take on “The Monkey’s Paw” that lacks the bite, wit, or energy to truly make it a good story.
Fantasy Island’s characters only vaguely resemble real people. The cast is clearly trying to make the terrible script come to life in some manner, but only some are successful. Michael Peña’s Mr. Roarke lacks charisma and charm, Maggie Q’s Gwen is a Mary Sue to a T, and Austin Stowell’s Patrick is just fine. The energy of Fantasy Island largely comes from Lucy Hale’s hypersexual Melanie, who injects plenty of iconic lines, and Jimmy O. Yang and Ryan Hansen’s party obsessed bros Brax and J.D. Initially a little bit annoying, Yang and Hansen easily became the most relatable and fun part of the film (I might be biased because I have a similar friendship in my life, but it was still a cute bromance).
Filmed in Fiji, Fantasy Island is beautifully shot and absolutely nails its sleek and deceptive aesthetic. While nothing spectacular stood out in the actual execution of the film, Fantasy Island kept me engaged with its expansive and variety of beautiful locations. Outside of the scenery Wadlow does very little to make his film stand out visually.
A brutal exercise in endurance, Fantasy Island refuses to end. At almost 110 minutes, Fantasy Island has way too much material to show for how little thought was actually put into it. Certain scenes creep like molasses that oftentimes add no substance to the story but work as visual candy for the easily bored. The effects of Fantasy Island could also use a lot more work. Somehow a movie that cost nine million dollars could not come up with more convincing effects for a burnt corpse and was unable to conjure something more interesting than eyes that bleed black blood? It is one thing to be unoriginal, but at least put some effort into it!
It is simply fascinating how Fantasy Island managed to make it to cinemas without any higher up saying “wait, you’re joking right? This can’t be the real film.” Fantasy Island does this weird genre blend of action, adventure, mystery, and horror. This by itself is not the issue but watching Fantasy Island feels like watching four separate movies cut-and-pasted right on top of each other. The comedy bits, while enjoyable, make this confusion more glaring. One moment is dark and serious, the next light and a little quirky before transitioning into something attempting to be thoughtful. It does not make tonal sense. Fantasy Island doesn’t know what it is or wants to be. Much like that guy in college who you’d hang out with every night for a week but then ghosts you for six months before sliding into your DMs on Instagram, Fantasy Island is not only afraid commitment but also of offering a satisfying payoff.
Fantasy Island is deceptively shallow for what could have been a thoughtful meditation on the dark side of wish fulfillment. Instead, we get a film whose main message is to "be careful what you wish for" with a dash of "bullying is bad" and some vague hero/doing the right thing soliloquies. Everything here has been done before and done with more finesse. Once you learn the sinister motivations behind bringing the group to the island you will actually be infuriated at how stupid this movie can be. Even still, with its concept Fantasy Island could have chosen more interesting fantasies from its cannon fodder characters, stuck to one, maybe two themes, and tied the entire film up with a tighter and more engaging story.
Despite having almost no cinematic merit, somehow, I absolutely enjoyed Fantasy Island. It is not a good film or even an okay film. It is straight-up bad. I will say, however, that it is the perfect kind of stupid entertainment to make fun of with friends and turn off your brain for a bit. To me, my enjoyment is half of the reason I watch films, and sometimes terrible films can be a good time. Thus, I give it a very fair rating that balances its lack of merit with my pleasure at every terrible step of the way. If the trailers got you excited for a thoughtful and scary thrill ride, Fantasy Island will have you wishing you spent money on a better film.
Overall Score? 4.5/10