Starring Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday. Directed by Jeff Wadlow.
The Blumhouse method of making films is clearly one that works. Low budgets, combined with total artistic control, usually means big profits. With Fantasy Island, or Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, they give perhaps the clearest example of that to date.
Fantasy Island is a horror revamp of the hokey TV series that ran from 1977 until 1984, and included two made-for-TV movies. The series originally starred Ricardo Montalban as the enigmatic Mr Roarke, the proprietor of Fantasy Island, a magical resort where the deepest fantasy of those who visit are made true – at a price. The drama series played like a morality play, with Montalban as the concierge to your desires, along with help from his friend Herve Villechaize.
This horror revamp has Michael Pena as Roarke and sees five visitors to his island where dark secrets, and different fantasies collide. Jeff Wadlow previously made the Blumhouse production Truth or Dare which was poor save for its central performance by Lucy Hale. Here Wadlow co-writes, co-producers and directs and reunites with star Lucy Hale.
The set-up, as with the show, is a fun sort of The Twilight Zone / Black Mirror set up where your one true fantasy has to be seen through to its conclusion, and usually there is a moral to be learnt. What the film lacks, though, is the strength to go with something deeper. The direction is neither good nor bad, just satisfactory, lacking any style or flair and instead simply giving you what you expect.
While Pena is shot with all the sinister vibes you’d want, despite his usually charming self here is alarmingly low energy. His central role should be enigmatic, and straddle that line between villain and possibly being a good guy, a dark Willy Wonka of sorts.
The guests are painted with the thinnest of thumbnail sketches though there is some fun to be had. Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang play stepbrothers looking to have the fantasy of “having it all”, which includes sex with supermodels, a nice house, crazy guns, mountains of cocaine and all the booze you could want.
The fun twist is that Yang is actually gay, which is never made a big deal of but does enable buff men in tight swimsuits as well as ladies. Austin Stowell is the desk-bound cop looking to play soldier, while Maggie Q is looking to relive her past mistakes to make them right, and of course Lucy Hale as the girl who wants to get revenge on her school-year bully.
The film is clearly not to be taken with heavy hitters like The Lighthouse or even Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man, but even so, the concept of a morality tale or “be careful what you wish for” could be so much better looked at if the film wasn’t interested in silly shoot outs and poorly staged jump scares. For a horror film, it’s lacking dread, and is worryingly low of scares.
Maggie Q elevates the entire film with her performance as a woman who wants something more complicated than just revenge or boobies, and her more introverted philosophical desire is handled well, but never fully explored. Her self loathing is what drives a wedge between her and her hearts desire, and Q gives the film a depth and a pain that it doesn’t really deserve.
Michael Rooker and Kim Coates have supporting roles and both chew the scenery like they’re starving artists, though Coates is so hammy his performance might be unsuitable for people of the Jewish faith. While a lot of the film has good set-ups – the chance to save a loved one from death, the chance to do over mistakes, the chance to ruin someone – the payoff is lacking in everything.
Lucy Hale is underserved with a role that is so wildly inconsistent it’s as if they smashed two roles together and never bothered to smooth the elements out.
As the film builds it becomes less focussed on either cautionary tale or horror film and opts for boring action and fights that never come together, the film can’t quite decide if it’s a supernatural thing or not, and the film devolves into rug-pull after rug-pull. Moreover, there are logical leaps that make no sense – someone who is clearly the same age as the heroes is assumed to be parent age, we’re supposed to buy that a massive bodybuilder is therapist.
When the emotional payoff comes, it wimpers on screen unable to actually provide real catharsis, and the film that could have been is left disappointingly ignored.
So, by the end you have horror film lacking tension, horror or even basic narrative skill elevated somewhat by underserved ideas, and a performance by Maggie Q that deserves a much better film. The audience might have a fantasy about a better film themselves. A new series of Black Mirror can’t come soon enough.