Sunday, October 18, 2020

31 Days of Horror: Fantasy Island

Directed by Jeff Wadlow.
2020. Rated PG-13, 109 minutes.
Cast: Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, Michael Rooker, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Mike Vogel, Evan Evagora, Robbie Jones, Kim Coates. 

Occasionally, there are moments that make me feel really old. When I heard they were making a movie out of Fantasy Island, one of those occurred. It wasn't the movie itself. It was the fact that when I mentioned to people that I used to love the TV show it's based on I usually got a deer in the headlights look. They either had no idea it was based on a series, or couldn't believe I was old enough to remember watching it. Sigh.

That has nothing to do with how I feel about the movie, mostly, but everything to do with feeling my own mortality. Screw you, young'uns. Screw you all.

As for the movie, it follows the basic premise of the show. A few random people show up to this very special island to live out their own specified fantasy. The place is run by Mr. Roarke (Pena) and his assistant Julia (Fitz-Henley). Roarke seems like he's been there forever, but Julia just got her gig. As for our guests, they range from sad to pathetic. First, there's Gwen (Q). She turned down her ex-boyfriend's marriage proposal and just wants a do-over. Melanie (Hale) is there to get revenge on the girl who bullied her in high school. Patrick (Sowell) is a cop who wants to live out his fantasy of being an enlisted man and taking out bad guys, just like a dad. Finally, brothers J. D. (Hansen) and Brax (Yang) are just there to party as hearty as possible. Mr. Roarke warns them all that fantasies don't play out exactly like they think they will, and so they don't.

Early scenes have the characters somewhat together before shuffling them off to their individual storylines. Of these, we pay the most attention to Gwen's and Melanie's stories. The fantasies of the men feel like afterthoughts. To be fair, we do spend long periods of time away from all of them since everyone has to get their moment in the sun. The tone of the four stories are all different from one another. What type of movie we're watching changes from one scene to the next, making it a bit tough to settle in. The writing eventually slaps them all together in a haphazard manner because it feels it must. This makes almost none of their conclusions satisfactory. They're just funnels into the horror flick finale that tries really hard to scare us but constantly gets hamstrung by its rating and never figures a way around it. 

The end result of all that bouncing around is that even though there are horror elements, particularly in the third act, it's really more glossy looking thriller that pretends to be edgy. Let's start with the glossy looking part. Fantasy Island is a good looking movie with good looking people all over the place. There's a lot of picturesque scenery and glistening bodies gracing the screen. Where other films might use that to undermine expectations and/or create something unsettling out of it, this does neither. It's just there. This gives the entire movie a sense of pleasance even when bad things are happening. On the flip side, scenes that are meant to be more grimy don't pull it off. It's all too manicured to get the desired effect.

It isn't all bad, though. All of the stories, save for J. D. and Brax's goofy crime dramedy, raise some interesting questions. This is especially true of Gwen's fantasy. We feel for her and think about what we would do in her situation. Maggie Q's heartfelt performance fuels our empathy. She's too good for the rest of this movie. She's a real thespian amongst a group of wannabe actors. Lucy Hale fares okay as Melanie, but it's hardly award-worthy work. Most disappointing is the one other person who really should be on Maggie Q's level, Michael Pena. About half the time he feels like he's making a lazy attempt at mimicking what Ricardo Montalban did with the role of Mr. Roarke in the TV series. The other half, he's just completely sleepwalking. He might've gotten away with it if the movie hadn't decided to make him an integral part of the proceedings near the end. It looks like he knows this is trash, but also knows he's gotta do something between Marvel checks.

Most of the questions raised by these stories go unanswered, sadly. Again, the culprit is the writing forcing all of these people together. This isn't an inherently bad idea. It's just poorly executed. By the time it's all said and done, we get a movie that never seems to know what it wants to be. It has a destination in mind, but can't decide on a route. Instead of going the fastest, most direct way, it takes the most scenic of routes and takes every unnecessary turn it comes upon. Had it figured out how it wanted to be what it wanted to be, it could've been a really good update on the source material. As it stands, it's an unfocused mashup of ideas that the filmmakers think are cool, but don't know how to make them cool.



  1. Well, that’s a bummer because I liked the campy tv show and Ricardo Montalban

  2. So it's not funny and there's no BOSS! THE PLANE! THE PLANE!? Fuck that shit.

    1. I was waiting on that, too! Julia does say "The plane!," but it's not the same, at all.

  3. Is the TV show good? I hadn't heard of it either but I can't pretend it's because I'm young! I loved the premise of this but the execution was just a bit bland.

    1. I loved the show, but I haven't seen it since the 80s. Make of that what you will.