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‘Fantasy Island’ is a fantasy better off forgotten

by Daniel O'Connell Fantasy Island was a staple of 1970s television. It starred the late great Ricardo Montalban as the enigmatic yet charismatic Mr. Roarke, who oversees a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean. On the show, Roarke and his sidekick Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) would offer guests to come and live out their fantasiesfor a price. Oftentimes these fantasies would be used to help the guests learn a lesson, come to terms with something in their past, or just become better people. While the show would be considered campy by today’s standards, it is still fondly remembered as a classic. Flashforward 42 years later, and reboots and remakes of old television properties are all the rage. That means some idiotic Hollywood executive thought that it would be a great idea to take a property like Fantasy Island and reboot it into a horror movie. Helmed by the infamous Blumhouse Productions and directed by Jeff Wadlow (who directed both Kick Ass 2 and the hilariously bad Truth or Dare), Fantasy Island brings a fantasy that’ll have you bored to tears. The film follows your standard plot of an episode of Fantasy Island: Mr. Roarke (this time played by Michael Peña) entertains five guests that come to his island to fulfill their fantasies. Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on a childhood bully, Patrick Sullivan (Austin Stowell) wants to enlist in war to honor his late father, Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q) wants to accept a marriage proposal she rejected years ago, and step brothers J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang) want to party it up. However, things take a sinister turn as the fantasies continue on.

Incredibly subpar performances

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Most of the characters in the movie, as well as the acting, are nothing to write home about. There is honestly not a lot to them, and most of their dialogue is them explaining aspects of their life, making it come across as unnatural and forced. I’d honestly prefer genuine character interactions instead of expositing aspects about themselves. The two characters that I was most interested in were Patrick and Gwen, due to the fact that Stowell and Q give some of the better performances of the cast, and that these characters’ fantasies feel like something that might appear on an episode of the original Fantasy Island. Lucy Hale’s Melanie, on the other hand, is a character I couldn’t care less about. She comes across as a very petty person since her fantasy is to get revenge on a bully. A healthy person seeks help and comes to terms with their bullied past. Furthermore, there is a reveal later in the film about her character that makes her seem even pettier. Not helping this is Lucy Hale’s terrible performance, which comes across as very flat and awkward, especially with her over-enunciating every other word in her lines. While three of the guests are either alright or forgettable, J.D. and Brax are completely insufferable. They’re effectively the film’s comic relief and are a pair of dude-bros whose fantasy is to party it up at a mansion filled with models. Most of their lines are either jokes that made me cringe or pop culture references that reminded me that I could be watching a better movie.
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And of course, I have to address Michael Peña as Mr. Roarke. He feels woefully miscast in the role. Performance-wise it’s alright, as Peña has proven himself to be a capable actor in both comedic and dramatic roles. However, he lacks the charisma and charm that Roarke is supposed to have, and that Ricardo Montalban had in spades. This lack of charisma can be chocked up to a combination of Peña being miscast and the writing of the movie. A more fitting actor for Roarke would be somebody like Antonio Banderas or Pedro Pascal. Peña is fine and does the best he can with the material provided, but he pales in comparison to Montalban. Asides from the guests and Roarke, there are two other prominent character actors in the movie. The first is Michael Rooker as Damon, a private investigator hired to figure out the island’s secrets. I was honestly excited when we first got a glimpse of Damon, since Rooker can definitely be fun and entertaining when he appears in something. However, his talent is wasted because all Damon does is provide exposition and then die a few scenes later. The other character actor is Kim Coates, and he’s awesome in the movie. He appears in J.D. and Brax’s fantasy as a cartel hitman that wants revenge on the owner of the mansion. Coates is a lot of fun in the role, acting like a villain from an 80s action flick, and dressing like a character from one of the Purge movies. Considering how annoying J.D. and Brax’s scenes were, he was an unexpected yet pleasant surprise that I needed.

Lame horror and confusing tones

On paper, doing a slightly darker take on Fantasy Island is not a bad idea in and of itself. The original series had episodes that could get a bit dark. For example, the original pilot had Mr. Roarke hunting a guest through the island a la The Most Dangerous Game. However, the writers decided to make a full-on horror movie out of the series, and an incredibly lame one at that. Most of the horror in the movie consists of incredibly predictable jump scares. As a horror fan, I could see them coming from a mile off, and sat in my seat unfazed and stone-faced when the jump scares happened. As the movie is rated PG-13, it’s limited in what it can do for its horror. If it were R-rated, it could at the very least go wild and over the top with its scares and violence. As it stands, the movie feels completely neutered with its PG-13 rating.
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The biggest problem that the movie has is its incredibly jarring tone, which jumps all over the place. All the different fantasies make it feel like there are four different movies that have been crammed into one. Melanie’s story is a watered-down Saw knock off, Patrick’s is a cross between Proof of Life and Frequency, Gwen’s is a melodrama focusing on regret, and lastly, J.D. and Brax’s is MTV Spring Break. Cutting between each of the different fantasies and their widely different tones made me feel as if I was a pinball being thrown about. As the movie goes on, it tries to make up for its lame attempts at horror with several twists. I saw that they were meant to be twists, but they are more akin to slight turns. They’re either very poorly foreshadowed or come straight out of nowhere. I mainly sat there either confused at the revelations or thinking of the further questions that they raised.  
Images: IMDb Featured Image: IMDb

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