IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 109 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A plane arrives at a mysterious island resort presided over by Mr. Roarke, who announces to his guests, all of whom have apparently won a contest, that they will be able to have their greatest fantasy fulfilled with only two caveats – each guest gets only one fantasy and they must see said scenario through to its “natural conclusion.” Unsure what that the latter exactly means, the gang sets out on their separate adventures. However, the fantasies begin to turn into nightmares, and it becomes quite apparent that the island contains a number of deadly secrets….
“Regrets, I have a few”, sung Ol’ Blue Eyes, and most of us probably do too. Every choice we make in life is a crossroad and every time you make a decision a new storyline is revealed and an alternative remains unexplored. The alternative becomes an untold tale that vanishes. Sometimes we are slaves to our minds when it starts asking “What if”? We dwell on these stories that never happened, especially when we did something that might have been wrong or had wrong done to us, something which can lead to us becoming trapped by the past and losing sight of the present. Fantasy Island basis itself on this idea which ought to lead to a very thought-provoking, moving piece of cinema – but which instead is royally cocked up. While it’s already made money at the box office due to the usual Blumhouse low budget, I gather that reviews are mostly really poor. Yet for about half an hour or even more, I honestly wondered if I was watching a different movie to the one viewed by the majority of reviewers; it had an intriguing premise, a tangible air of mystery, some philosophical depth, and it managed to contradict the comment I made in my review of The Invisible Man about Blumhouse’s films being uniformly visually unappealing because it has a nice look about it. However, the promise of the first third or so manages to dissipate as the film goes down the proverbial toilet, getting more and more stupid until we get to a final act which is so inept that I reckon many viewers will wonder if they’re watching a spoof. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that ruins the good will created by its early scenes, that gets worse and worse so steadily, in a very long time. But then this is another effort from David Wadlow, following up his lousy Truth Or Dare [which also wasted a great premise] and who’s also responsible for the likes of Kick-Ass 2 and Cry Wolf. Maybe his own fantasy is to never make a good film?
This one is based, as you may already know, on an old TV series which ran from 1977 to 1984 in which Ricardo Montalban played Mr. Roarke, the head of a mysterious island resort who, along with the assistance of aide-de-camp Tattoo (Herve Villechaize, the little guy from The Man With The Golden Gun], would each week greet a new crop of either newcomers or aging guest stars, and then somehow make their deepest fantasies come true [well, as deep as network television of the time allowed]. I never had the pleasure of watching it, but it seems that this movie version is loosely based on the second of the two TV movies which proceeded the series, and adds an element of horror. The show was apparently highly fantastical with stuff like de-aging and time travel going on, but it never did more than skirt close to horror – and one wonders if this film would have been better off steering totally clear of it even if that sounds like a strange thing for a writer for a website called ‘Horror Cult Films’ to say. Said horror feels tacked on and is, with the exception of one especially out of place scene which approaches torture porn [and which is no doubt the reason for the ‘15’ rating that the film has in the UK though I don’t really agree with the decision seeing as the torture never actually happens], is so tame that you wonder why they even bothered. There’s never any feeling of fear which a ‘PG-13’ horror film can sometimes possess to make up for the lack of onscreen violence or strong intensity [A Quiet Place being a perfectly good example] – in fact there’s not even really any tension. I honestly don’t think that Wadlow, who as is often the case also scripted, wholly knew what he was doing with this project, especially towards the end where it honestly seems like he lost the plot totally.
But for now let’s start at the beginning, and we open with a scene of panic as a woman flees a man and, finding a telephone, calls a line that’s obviously some kind of helpline, only to find that the voice on the end of the line, a voice which is already unmistakably that of Michael Pena, is certainly not belonging to someone who might help. Some more men show up and drag her away – well, I think they drag her away, it’s almost impossible to tell what with the horrendous ‘shakycam’. This idiotic, irresponsible [is it really right that a film should make a viewer feel sick?] device seemed to be becoming used less but recently seems to have made an unwelcome comeback. But I do wonder if the whole scene was necessary at all and that it may have been added at the last minute when Blumhouse decided that things needed to open with a bang. Without it, the next 15 or so minutes of misdirection would have played a lot better, though they still play fairly well anyway. A woman walking on a beach cries out “the plane”! which is no doubt a reference to the way Tattoo in the series often cried out “de plane, de plane”! as the latest guests arrived at the island. Here the people who want their fantasies fulfilled are: Patrick, a policeman who really wanted to be a soldier like his father who died sacrificing himself for others; JD and his gay housemate Brax who just want to party even though JD doesn’t seem totally happy that he dumped his girlfriend; Gwen who yearns for a family and who turned down her boyfriend’s proposal because she was “in a dark place”; and Melanie who’s still angry at the bullying and humiliation she received from classmate Sloane at school.
These aren’t the most likable lot, and only Maggie Q really seems to be giving a performance, Lucy Hale being flat as usual as indeed are the others. There’s also a strange moment when Melanie virtually comes on to Patrick as soon as she sees him, a moment which is totally pointless as it has no bearing on anything that follows, she being totally different when she sees him again. But these people not being entirely sympathetic is kind of the point; they’ve all got serious issues and may even have done things that weren’t necessarily right. And Pena, a very actor who despite being in many films has not, in my view, often been given the opportunity to show what he can really do, totally owns the part of Mr. Roarke, almost immediately hinting at some uncertainty beneath his surface of confidence. Roarke greets the guests who are launched into their personal choice of fantasy almost right away. Patrick is captured by a group of American soldiers and discovers that their commander is his father on the mission he died at. JD and Brax find a party house filled with models, weed, booze – plus a small arsenal and an escape room – though the restrictions of the ‘PG-13’ rating, a rating that’s virtually become the equivalent of a ‘PG’ of late, don’t let us see almost any of what they get up to. There’s potential for an ’18’ rated film which really shows people having their fantasies fulfilled before things go wrong – wouldn’t many of these be sexual? Anyway – moving on – Gwen is given a second chance to accept her boyfriend’s proposal and then enjoy family life as things jump forward five years. And Melanie is given the opportunity to take revenge on Sloane, who’s strapped to a chair while Gwen uploads an online video of her Sloane’s husband with someone else. However, when she rather too conveniently also sees a video of Sloane being kidnapped, she decides to rescue her instead and run for it, soon bumping into Michael Rooker, cast in the role of Damon, a private investigator sent to investigate the true intentions of Fantasy Island, but basically playing Michael Rooker again, acting all intense and mysterious saying things like,”this island contains evil”.
This sets in motion a series of events when fantasies don’t seem to be quite right and start to intertwine with each other. And this is when the film starts to go wrong, things becoming increasingly random as Wadlow keeps throwing up questions which he doesn’t actually have answers for. There are zombies, black goo [Blumhouse seems to like black goo], a drug cartel all wearing masks, a magic glowing rock, you name it – but not nearly enough of a sense of fun so you buy all these ingredients, and it sometimes just seems like we’re watching several films intruding on each other, not helped by Wadlow not handling any of this with much style except for the odd instance of ‘shaky cam’ where he obviously doesn’t want you to see what’s going on properly. Scenes where characters work out what to do seem like the work of someone who’s never written anything before – and then we get to the final act which is a total mess. Two characters, one after the other, stand before the others to reveal Big Secrets, people do things that make no sense, and the biggest Twist is just bewildering because it totally disregards some previous things that we’ve seen, namely somebody helping people and expressing surprise at stuff that’s happening. Frankly it just seems as if Wadlow thought it up on the spot and either didn’t have time or just couldn’t be bothered to link it up with what came before. And after this, one can only groan at the terrible attempt to both set things up for a sequel and give us a Tattoo – the way that the latter is done being one of the most pathetic instances of screen writing I’ve seen of late – and that’s saying something.
Out of the characters, Gwen’s story is the most touching, and one almost wishes that the film could have principally focused on her. The scenes just involving her, or her and her family tend to be beautifully shot [why is it I get the impression that cinematographer Toby Oliver fancied Maggie?]. Second is oddly Mr. Roarke’s – though when we finally learn of the situation that he’s in we want more time to have been spent on it as it’s quite moving and could have sustained a movie on its own or at least with far less going on. Fantasy Island is really quite bizarre; it’s got too much stuff for one movie yet at the same time seems to contain much that didn’t need to be in it, though the 112 minute running time does fly by. It verges on being genuinely bizarre, but Wadlow’s script needed a director more in tune with the weird side of things to totally bring it to life – or Wadlow’s script needed some extensive rewriting. Jokes especially seem not to be his forte considering the cringe- worthy attempts at chuckles here. Fantasy Island overall isn’t a total and utter disaster like Blumhouse’s Black Christmas which was not just a bad movie but which was also thoroughly despicable due to its misandry. I still came away from it filled with wistful thoughts on what might have been if I hadn’t made several important decisions in my life, and certain bad choices really weighed on my mind – but not nearly as much as my disappointment, even bafflement, at how a film that seemed to have so much potential could go so wrong.