FANTASY ISLAND (2020)

Fantasy Island.jpg

Studio:      Blumhouse
Director:    Jeff Wadlow
Writer:      Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach, Jillian Jacobs
Producer:  Jason Blum, Marc Toberoff, Jeff Wadlow
Stars:     Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Portia Doubleday, Ryan Hansen, Michael Rooker, Mike Vogel, Parisa Fitz-Henley

Review Score:

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Summary:

Guests at a mysterious tropical resort live out their deepest desires, but experience shocking consequences.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Blumhouse¡¯s ¡°Fantasy Island¡± leans closer to ¡°Amazing Stories¡± or ¡°The Twilight Zone¡± than it does toward ¡°Tales from the Crypt.¡± Nevertheless, its driving concept inherently creates a cool hook for fashioning a feature film out of pieces that initially operate like a horror anthology.

No one knows exactly how Fantasy Island pulls off its impressively immersive experiences. Are Westworld-style robotics and technology powering VR illusions? Astounding actors and elaborately constructed sets? Could supernatural magic possibly be in play? Whatever the explanation, five contest winners have arrived at the exotic resort for a VIP getaway where their deepest desires are designed to come to life, and the only costs are unexpected consequences.

Patrick looks to correct his cowardice with a military simulation alongside an adored idol. Gwen hopes for a similar reunion with someone long gone via an opportunity to change a decision she deeply regrets. Sarcastic stepbrothers J.D. and Brax just want to party like playboys. Melanie wants revenge against the childhood bully who put her into therapy.

Mysterious caretaker Mr. Roarke can, and does, make these dreams come true, provided everyone follows the island¡¯s two rules: only one fantasy per person and each guest must see it through to the end. Horror movie rules about wish fulfillment trump the island¡¯s demands however. Like ¡°The Monkey¡¯s Paw,¡± ¡°Pet Sematary,¡± or any other fear fable about failing to foresee how fooling fate never works out, the men and women playing Fantasy Island¡¯s game learn new lessons about being careful what they wish for. Their individual experiences ultimately link to a revelation that ties their personally-tailored terrors together.

The online hive mind has spoken and its collective conclusion can be heard loud and clear: apparently Blumhouse¡¯s ¡°Fantasy Island¡± only needs to add a coronavirus and then it can qualify as the worst tropical trip anyone can take. The critically lambasted flick sits near the bottom of Rotten Tomatoes with a measly 10% ¡®Fresh¡¯ rating. Metacritic isn¡¯t kinder. The scores from 25 top reviewers average out to just 20 out of 100.

Listen to hyperbole and ¡°Fantasy Island¡± sounds more irredeemably offensive than a man who beats his wife. On the Roger Ebert website, Peter Sobczynski called the film ¡°no sane person¡¯s fantasy of a half-decent movie.¡± Rolling Stone¡¯s Peter Travers, who usually hands out raves ready-made for any box that will put his quote on the cover, wrote in his zero-star review, ¡°if crimes against cinema merited prosecution, Blumhouse¡¯s Fantasy Island would go directly to death row ¡­ stop it now, before it kills again.¡± From the viciousness of complaints spitted against it, you¡¯d think ¡°Fantasy Island¡± was responsible for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand.

Somewhere in my time as a genre film critic, I seem to have indirectly become a shoulder-shrugging defender of mainstream horror movies exaggeratingly accused of being abhorrent abominations. I went into average thrillers like ¡°The Bye Bye Man¡± (review here) and ¡°Rings¡± (review here) hearing nothing but hateful condemnation echoing words like those hurled at ¡°Fantasy Island¡± above. I came out confused over what inspired such angry hubbub. Those movies aren¡¯t destined for classic status of any kind, but they¡¯re adequate pieces of popcorn entertainment to fill 90 minutes you weren¡¯t doing anything better with anyway.

Add ¡°Fantasy Island¡± to the list of popularly maligned horror films that are actually okay. They merely need to be measured against a fairer curve for milquetoast movies targeted at less demanding audiences. I¡¯m not dying on any hills or anything. But to people insinuating you¡¯d have to be insane to find it even half-decent, or ludicrously likening it to a mass murderer, I have to wonder where in the world they were setting their unrealistic expectations.

¡°Fantasy Island¡± is fine. I know, fine isn¡¯t an ideal adjective that¡¯s going to get anyone excited about anything, nor should it. But it fits for what the film¡¯s finished form aims to be and for how well it achieves those unambitious goals. Remember, we¡¯re talking about a midrange Blumhouse production, one whose characteristics include prioritizing prettiness, streamlining suspense, and basically seasoning itself simply to be as palatably pedestrian as possible for mass consumption. On those grounds, ¡°Fantasy Island¡± can¡¯t be considered anything other than successful.

Maybe it¡¯s short on scares, but the film finds more flavor in its offbeat adventure aspect anyway. A disheveled Michael Rooker spelunks around a soundstage cave like some forgotten Indiana Jones companion. A squad of soldiers and an armed assembly of masked mercenaries face off in a firefight set in a luxury mansion. Add in weirdness like a mutely murderous Dr. Giggles on steroids and zombies fueled by black oil out of ¡°The X-Files¡± and you¡¯ve got all kinds of WTF nuttiness occupying the island.

Not all of ¡°Fantasy Island¡¯s¡± goofiness equals entertainment though, and that¡¯s where I¡¯ll roll my eyes at the same speed as detractors. I¡¯m a big ¡°Veronica Mars¡± fan, yet even I tired of Ryan Hansen doing frat boy shtick when he¡¯s got to be at least ten years too old to still be playing that kind of character. Director Jeff Wadlow also should have stopped Kim Coates from indulging in an awful Russian accent that¡¯s clearly used as amusement for the actor, not the audience. Perhaps Michael Pena plainly projects what¡¯s underwritten on the page because he seemingly yearns to yawn as much as the audience with his passively bland portrayal of Mr. Roarke, whom Ricardo Montalban formerly made so memorable.

No one will ever watch ¡°Fantasy Island¡± more than once, which is a good thing since there is no way the groundwork for the twist will look level when you know what¡¯s coming. Most of the movie remains perfectly tolerable until a wild last act derails the train all the way into absurdity. I can and have forgiven a lot of the film¡¯s foibles, but there¡¯s a haphazardness in the last half hour¡¯s structure where frayed ends have a hard time tying together cleanly. In these moments, it¡¯s easy to see the story struggling to stay remotely sensible.

Haters are still being melodramatic. ¡°Fantasy Island¡± certainly isn¡¯t the worst project Blumhouse has ever had its name on. Not even close. It¡¯s not even the worst theatrically-released thriller of 2020¡¯s first six weeks. Has everyone forgotten about ¡°The Turning¡± (review here) already?*

*(Counterpoint: Nobody can be faulted for forgetting ¡°The Turning,¡± willingly or unwillingly.)

¡°Fantasy Island¡± meets acceptable standards for an assembly line effort intentionally producing blue collar Toyota Corollas, not high performance Maseratis. If it seems disappointing, that¡¯s more a failing of misaligned expectations than the movie¡¯s ability to deliver to the limits of a modest budget and B-list cast. Once again I just have to tuck my shoulders toward my neck and halfheartedly contend, ¡°it¡¯s really not that bad.¡±

Review Score: 55