Fantasy Island is a horror twist on the hit 1970’s TV show. While this is a creative and intriguing concept, the film didn’t quite manage to streamline itself into a properly horrific piece of cinema, as its new genre had promised (JRL: 2 / 5)
Review by FF2 Media Intern Julia Lasker
As the film opens, a terrified young woman sprints through the woods. She stumbles across a mansion and runs inside. She has barely had a chance to call for help when she’s dragged out again, kicking and screaming, by some mysterious and gruesome-looking men in uniforms.
Immediately thereafter, we see a sunny, tropical environment with birds chirping and clear blue water and skies: the Fantasy Island we’re expecting. The guests, Melanie (Lucy Hale), Gwen (Maggie Q), Patrick (Austin Stowell), and step brothers JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), arrive in a private helicopter. They are welcomed to the island by its manager, Mr. Roarke (Micheal Peña), who explains to them that they have each won a chance to live out their greatest fantasy on this island. For JD and Brax, this is a days-long party at a mansion filled with models. For Patrick, it’s (oddly enough) to serve in the US Army. For Gwen, it’s marriage and a daughter, and for Melanie, it’s revenge on a childhood bully.
As the guests live out their fantasies, they’re astounded by just how real it all feels. This is especially true for Melanie, who ends up in a basement with her childhood bully, Sloane (Portia Doubleday) strapped to a chair in a glass case, with Melanie’s choice of torture device available at the push of a button. When Melanie realizes that this is, in fact, really Sloane, she discovers that this might not be the happy vacation she hoped for. The rest of the guests soon follow her in realizing that their fantasies have dark, even dangerous sides, and despite Mr. Roarke’s instructions to “let the fantasy play out,” they must try to find a way to escape.
I love the idea of a horror twist on the classic TV show; I only wish the idea had been more fine-tuned. Because there were four different fantasies playing out at a time, each with their own, separate horrors going with them, it felt like there was too much going on. Rather than choosing one thread to run through the film, it seemed like writers Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, and Jeff Wadlow and director Wadlow decided to try out every horror movie trope, hoping for strength in numbers. But because the plot was so disjointed, none of the horror elements were properly executed. More confusing than scary, it was hard to get into the story. The elaborate nature of the plot also left no time for character introduction or development, leaving the protagonists feeling more like two-dimensional “types” than like people.
However, I did find the contrast fascinating as well as visually exciting: the heavenly and beautiful island, and the gruesome and upsetting deaths that occur. The variety of directions that the film took us in is also testament to its creativity. And I have to say that I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen at any point in the film, so if the story was a bit random, at least it wasn’t predictable.
Q: Does Fantasy Island pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
A: Yes! There are a few scenes between Melanie and Sloane.