Updated: Jul 12, 2021
When a television show is adapted into a movie, the general idea is to attract fans of the original series by keeping a lot of what they will recognize, while also bringing in a new audience by updating it. Make something old feel slightly new, then watch the cash come in! Granted, it does not necessarily work out that way (see the varying successes of the different Charlie’s Angels reboots), but it is a decent bet even when it fails. That is what makes the approach to Blumhouse’s big screen Fantasy Island adaptation so baffling.
The series, which aired on ABC from 1978-84, was an anthology drama/adventure where guests would come to a mysterious island each week and have their fantasies fulfilled, not always in the ways they expected. The movie twists that concept into a horror story about a group of vacationers whose fantasies become nightmares. Those who remember the show will likely be put off by the turn toward horror. Those interested in this have probably never heard of the show. So, what was the point of changing a property for an intended audience that would not know what it is? Why not use this story to start a totally new franchise?
I continued to wonder as I watched Fantasy Island (104 minutes without the end credits). Blumhouse bounces between more ambitious projects such as Get Out and cliché genre exercises like Truth or Dare. This belongs in the same category as the latter (not just because they share directors, writers and a star). It is clearly aimed at teenage viewers who will overlook its plot holes and complete lack of atmosphere, only caring about jump scares and blood (since it is PG-13, there is not much). It is dumb, with late developments that force us to ignore things that happened earlier if we are to accept them. On the plus side, the cast has fun and I was mildly amused by the silliness (some of it is even intentional!). It is not good although, if you are inclined to like this sort of thing, you may have fun with it.
Five strangers win a contest earning them a trip to a mysterious island resort that promises to make your fantasies come true. The man in charge, Mr. Rourke, informs them of the rules: one fantasy per guest and it must be seen to its end. Soon after beginning their fantasies, they discover things are not what they seem. They all have a price to pay in exchange for what they desire most.
This is not a bad premise for a horror movie, looking at the darker side of getting what you want, almost Monkey’s Paw style. Then it switches gears, revealing multiple twists and does not see its own setup all the way to its end. This is a “throw a bunch of ideas together” kind of project. It does not work, yet I intermittently enjoyed its full speed ahead ridiculousness. There are fleeting moments suggesting what could have been, but there is so much going on, and the cast does not take it seriously, so I was never bored. Even though I knew what I was watching was not good.
I have no clue why the studio decided to make this, but I definitely know who it was made for: less discerning horror fans in their teens and twenties. Perhaps they figured a more faithful Fantasy Island would be a tough sell and that, by making it horror, it can bring in genre fans for opening weekend while maybe also luring curious fans of the show. If you are hoping for Fantasy Island or a clever thriller, you will be disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for something brainless, it should fit the bill.
2½ out of 5
Lucy Hale as Melanie
Maggie Q as Elena
Austin Stowell as Randall
Jimmy O. Yang as Brax
Ryan Hansen as Bradley
Portia Doubleday as Sonja
Michael Peña as Mr. Rourke
Michael Rooker as Morgan
Parisa Fitz-Henley as Julia
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Written by Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow