Fantasy Island has a stretch of some great so-bad-it’s-good material, but too much of it is just a confused bore.
I guess it was only a matter of time before someone tried to make Fantasy Island cool again? The original show, broadcasted from the late 70s to the early 80s, centered on Ricardo Montalbán playing the peculiar Mr. Rourke alongside his assistant Tattoo. Together they invited individuals onto their mysterious island where they were able to live out deeply desired fantasies conjured by the mass of land that often came at a price or at least went in unexpected directions. Though the show is obviously dated and is now mostly regarded as a campy relic of a different era, the recurring surreal and supernatural elements clearly set off a lightbulb in the head of someone at Blumhouse that the property deserved to be resuscitated.
To be fair, I can see what they were going for here. Writer/director Jeff Wadlow, along with writers Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs, seems to try to bridge the past and present by blending supernatural horror with elements of mystery, action, and comedy that wouldn’t feel out of place in disparate episodes of the original program. It’s not self-aware or meta per se, but there’s an evident effort of taking what is obviously a silly idea and updating it for the modern mainstream horror market and retaining the show’s now-retro appeal. It’s one big nostalgic callback and simultaneously a new, dark vision of what once was.
This does not make the film good. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re treated to a comically rushed opening scene to introduce us to our stock horror personas and within no time at all their fantasies are going horribly wrong, and just as Michael Peña’s dopey version of Mr. Rourke inauspiciously foretold: they must see their fantasies through to the end. The Monkey’s Paw situations range from getting a husband and daughter you’ve always wanted but missing out on years of memories, the potential real-life torture of one’s old high school bully, getting caught up in a cartel war, getting caught up in a real war with one’s deceased father, and also there’s ghosts or something that pop up sometimes. Oh and Michael Rooker is running around the woods with a machete. Oh yeah, and Michael Peña has sinister intentions. And how could I forget, someone may not be who they seem!
It’s all ridiculously convoluted and a movie this clumsy has no idea how to reckon with the inherent tonal disparities at the heart of the plot. The way it abruptly shifts between entire genres from scene to scene is almost novel, but every development is so senseless that it just becomes a big joke, particularly when it expects you to take some of the big climactic character moments seriously. You’d think we’re several movies deep into a decade-long franchise with how big some of the emotional swings are.
However, I have to give credit where credit is due: once we hit the climax and it all finally comes together, the disparate character threads come to a head, and everyone’s true motives are revealed, this thing becomes an absolute hoot. It does a hard pivot from normal bad to ludicrously, hilariously stupid bad and it’s so much better for it. Once this thing dives into absolute nonsense mode I was pumping my fists in the air and cackling the entire time. The big final twist is so beautifully moronic and when compared to everything else that came before, it circles back around to being riveting.
Not enough of Fantasy Island lands in this precious space of engrossing idiocy to go down as some kind of cult classic midnighter or anything, but it’s at least a high note to end on for a film that is mostly otherwise just an obvious misfire. And if one particular mind-boggling shout out to the television series is any indication, the Fantasy Island freaks of the world better get ready because this franchise is just getting started, and there’s nowhere to go but even dumber.
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