Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island
Back in January, I wrote about the early 2020 movies I was looking forward to seeing in theatres. After I poured one out for seeing movies in theatres in 2020, I went back to the list.
I intended to review the movies on the list. To my surprise, I’ve only seen one of the seven movies listed. Obviously I couldn’t see Black Widow, but I’ve had access to the other movies on the list in one way or another. Heck, Bloodshot’s been available on Prime at no additional cost for months. Instead, I watched Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island.
Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island
Low budget (as in affordable, not necessarily cheap) horror producer Blumhouse Productions acquired the rights adapt the classic TV show Fantasy Island into a feature film.
In case you don’t know, imagine a genie in the shape of a tropical island. Select clientele visit the island for a literally life changing vacation, arriving with a regret that they wish had gone differently. So the island makes it happen. The guests get a do over, armed with the insight of how their life played out originally. In the end, guests rarely get the wish they thought they wanted.
On the show, the twists usually see the island having greater insight into the guests’ needs, or less short-sighted goals. However, it’s not hard to see how the above premise can be played for horror. Make the island less of an Aladdin Genie and more an ironic Wishmaster genie. The moral changes from “fulfilling needs over wants” to “be careful what you wish for.”
Mr Roark and Tattoo
Reboots that reverse the moral center of the original usually turn an important wholesome character into one who is only superficially good. For the Wicked Witch of the West to be sympathetic, Wicked made Glinda the Good Witch a mean girl and The Wizard of Oz despotic. Hanna Barbera characters have run through the ringer, whether they’re questionable clients of Harvey Birdman, or slasher movie murderers like The Banana Splits.
Fantasy Island’s original protagonists, Mr Roark and Tattoo, act as the island’s keepers, greeting guests and facilitating their wishes. A lot of the classic series’ success can be attributed to Ricardo Montalbán’s charming portrayal as Mr Roark.
The normally also charming Michael Peña plays Roark in the horror film. If Roark was going to be the film’s villain, Peña would have to (/get to) play against type.
As for Tattoo… I’ve said too much.
Why Did I Want To Watch This Movie
In my January post I mentioned above, this wasn’t one of the movies I was excited about. It was an honourable mention.
From that post:
“I think I’m just a sucker for fantasy adaptations that focus on the horror of magic. I like the original Fantasy Island just fine, so when I saw a remake with Michael Peña in the Ricardo Montalban role, that sounded like it could be fun. This does NOT. LOOK. FUN. But it does have my attention.”
My feelings on the movie changed every time I saw an add for it. I was initially intrigued. Later, I felt bad. Fantasy Island embodied optimism, second chances, learning from ones mistakes. The worst case scenario, this movie would be Saw without the psychology, cashing in on the name recognition. But best case scenario, Fantasy Island could lean into the psychology and draw it out with magic and irony.
When Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island showed up on Prime as a recommended horror movie around Halloween, it was finally time to watch it.
I liked Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island quite a bit. It lands far closer to my best case scenario than my worst case scenario. It follows the same group of characters through the whole movie as they receive their fantasy, discover the dark side of what they wished for, and try to outmaneuver the twists their fantasy takes.
The twists come at different paces. This keeps the excitement recurring, and gives every character’s fantasy different shades of intrigue. Austin Stowell’s Patrick, for example, regrets that he never enlisted in the army to continue his father’s legacy. His fantasy not only puts him in the military but in his father’s unit. Ryan Hansen’s J. D.’s fantasy about living the rich life plays out like a poolside vacation for almost half the movie. Whereas Patrick’s scenes focus on family drama and the dangers of a warzone, J.D. hanging out by the pool is so devoid of drama that the lack of tension builds tension.
Most low budget horror movies cut costs with an unknown cast of attractive people. In this case, the performances hold the movie together. Jimmy O Yang is charming, and he has great chemistry with his on-screen half-brother (Hansen). Maggie Q plays every scene with a mix of the emotion the scene calls for and suspicion. Lucy Hale and Portia Doubleday overcome the cliched of their roles as young, attractive blonde women running and screaming.
The only performance that disappointed was Michael Peña. He was perfectly serviceable, but nowhere near the larger than life heights of Ricardo Montalbán’s version of the same character.
Critics and audiences are murdering this movie in the reviews. I’m surprised. I’m sure I liked this movie more than most -it’s well structured, which I put much more value into than most movie goers- but I have trouble seeing this as the plane wreck it’s popularly described as.
My guess is that it’s because it pulls its punches as a horror movie. It’s not a slasher or torture porn. It’s not The Banana Splits movie. It fails to fulfill the promise of a horror reimagining of Fantasy Island. In fact, this could have been an unusually dark episode of the original series.
By walking the line of horror and authentic, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island alienates both horror fans and Fantasy Island fans. It just happen to perfectly line up with the fence I was sitting on about whether I even liked this idea or not.