Fantasy Island

{Movie Review} Fantasy Island (2020)

I am a firm believer in the idea that you can make a good movie out of anything. People thought the Lego Movie would be bad based on its premise alone but that ended up being one of the best family films of the last decade. The history of cinema is filled with ridiculous ideas executed well.

I wanted to believe you could make a good movie out of anything. Then I watched Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island.

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is not just a bad idea poorly made, it is a confusing mess. It is the cinematic equivalent of throwing random ingredients into a pot of boiling water and expecting the result to be spaghetti. With every new ingredient, the creators keep looking back at the audience and shouting, “Is this anything?” “Please let this be something,” Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island pleads as it offers up another twist. The answer is the same no matter what Fantasy Island attempts. This is less than nothing, this is nonsense.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

As previously mentioned, Fantasy Island is a silly idea from the start. Based on a show of the same name which ran from the late seventies to the early eighties, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island follows a group of five people who have been granted a stay on Fantasy Island, a place where guests can live out their deepest dreams.

The central conceit of both the original T.V. series and this reinterpretation is that guests are granted their fantasy so that they can learn a lesson. Anchoring this fantasy is the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalbán in the original and by Michael Peña in the 2020 movie) who serves as a host for the island’s guests.

Peña is a fantastic actor who adds nothing to this film. Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island wants the audience to believe that Mr. Roarke is this charismatic man with dark secrets but instead, he comes across as cold and distant even when he is supposed to be warm. There is an energy and charisma Peña usually brings to his roles that is completely absent here. It’s difficult to blame the actor though when the script is so conflicted about what exactly is going on with Mr. Roarke. Is he an unwilling servant of the island’s whims or a happy participant? Does he genuinely care about the island’s guests or is he looking forward to their deaths?

Courtesy of Blumhouse

If you were being generous you could suggest that this ambiguity is intentional. The problem is that Fantasy Island does nothing to earn that benefit of the doubt.

Every other character is almost completely flat. Each of the five guests is given one or two traits that completely define them. Melanie (Lucy Hale) is a young woman who is obsessed with getting revenge on a high school bully, Patrick (Austin Stowell) is an ex-cop who wants to know what it’s like to be a solider, Gwen (Maggie Q) is a career woman who feels like she lost out on her chance for a family, and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D. (Ryan Hansen) are brothers looking to party. Also hanging around the island are Melanie’s bully Sloane (Portia Doubleday) and Damon (Michael Rooker), a private investigator looking to discover the island’s secrets.

The only interesting idea Fantasy Island can muster surrounds the five guests. Each guest’s fantasy is meant to imitate a genre. Melanie’s revenge fantasy is a horror movie, Patrick’s fantasy of being a soldier is a war movie, Gwen’s second chance at finding love is a romantic drama, and the two brothers end up with a stoner comedy. The idea is interesting, but the movie never fully commits to any of these. Worse still is that Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island has absolutely nothing to say about any of the genres its imitating. There’s no unifying message or theme to any of it.

The only storyline that appears to have a theme is Patrick’s storyline and its theme of sacrifice. Patrick’s father was a soldier who jumped on a grenade to save his men. This story has potential, but its resolution feels hollow and predictable.

Despite everything mentioned above, there were a handful of bright spots in Fantasy Island. The biggest surprise for me was Jimmy O. Yang’s character, Brax. Brax is an openly gay Asian man and I appreciate the film’s restraint with his character. There are no gross-out gags about his sexuality and no jokes that make fun of his ethnicity. These small mercies add up to a lot as he was the only character I enjoyed watching.

Other than that, there is quite a bit of ironic joy to be squeezed out of Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island. There is a plot twist pile up in the last third of the movie that grows increasingly ludicrous. I’m tempted to call these twists mean spirited but the movie is too ridiculous for me to find too much harm in them.

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is ultimately a film that fails to commit to anything. It’s too goofy to be scary and its marketing as a horror movie is laughable at best. The result is something seemingly made specifically for fans of bad movies.