Cinema Dispatch: Fantasy Island

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Fantasy Island and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Jeff Wadlow

The only thing I know about the TV show is that it had Khan from Star Trek and Nick Nack from The Man with the Golden Gun, but even still turning it into a horror film seems like a dubious prospect at best.  What, there weren’t enough Twilight Zone episodes to adapt or Creepshow sequels to pump out that we have to now start reaching for non-horror properties to try and squeeze out yet another February horror film?  I mean I guess it COULD be good!  Stranger things have happened, certainly.  Is this brilliant reinterpretation of a classic seventies television show, or were we better off with Wild Wild West being the most embarrassing remake of a TV series from that era?  Let’s find out!!

Gwen, Patrick, JD, Brax, and Melanie (Maggie Q, Austin Stowell, Ryan Hansen, Jimmy O Yang, and Lucy Hale) have all won a free trip to the mysterious FANTASY ISLAND which is run by the equally mysterious Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) who is known for his also equally mysterious ability to grant your greatest fantasy while visiting the island!  For JD and Brax, they want to party like rock stars, for Gwen she wants to get back what she’s lost, for Patrick he wants to be a solider, and for Melanie she wants to get revenge on her school bully.  All of which are simple enough to fulfill for the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, but as the fantasies come to fruition there are monkey paw style twists and turns that make their visit not quite as spectacular as they had hoped they would be; particularly when spooky and outright dangerous stuff begins to happen.  They must somehow work through their own turbulent fantasies and eventually with each other to stop whatever dark fate is expected to befall them and to find out the secret of the island as well as Mr. Roarke’s uncanny power.  Can this rag tag group of nobodies who may or may not have some sort of dark past figure out a way to escape the island in one piece?  What exactly is Mr. Roarke’s end goal here, and are there some dark secrets in his closet as well?  If my fantasy was to have unlimited fantasies, would he have to find a way to make that work?

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“What is your greatest wish today?”     “I want to see you get your suit dirty.”     “…”     “DO IT!  CHOP CHOP!!”     “Oh, it’s going to be one of these days…”

Why do you keep doing this to me Blumhouse?  You put out some great movies like Happy Death Day and The Purge sequels, but you still resort to making crap like THIS!?  I was sure that The Boy 2: Electric Boy-galoo was going to be the worst thing I saw this month, but it’s got some stiff competition as this is terrible to an ASTONISHING degree.  I have no nostalgia for the original series as I’ve never seen a single episode of it, but even with that there’s still something TRULY tasteless about the way this movie plays out and the awkward place it sits between being a love letter to that original show and doing… what it is they did here.  It has the SPARK of a decent idea that it inherited from the original show, but it has no idea what to do with it and the resulting mess on screen is tonally inconsistent when it’s not being utterly tone oblivious, tries to tie everything together and in doing so makes this a Gordian Knot of epic proportions, and has one of the most bafflingly inscrutable endings that would have easily taken top prize as the worst of the year if we hadn’t gotten The Turning like three weeks ago.  Who exactly is this movie for?  I’m genuinely curious what the mindset was going into this, because I’ll tell you one thing; the end product certainly isn’t for anyone who likes good movies!

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“Welcome to Fyre Fest 2!  We have a house this time, but the menu is still only cheese sandwiches and shame.”

If I’ll give the movie credit for anything, it doesn’t start off all that bad.  We’ve got a basic setup here and they do a decent job of selling you on the… I guess you could say BANLAITY of the situation.  No one really knows HOW Roarke fulfills the fantasies of his guests, but they also don’t really seem to question that he can do it; giving it a sense that this has been going on for a least a while.  That’s a good thing because the point shouldn’t be HOW the fantasies happen, it’s what they do with the characters in them.  The characters by the way are passible with some coming off better than others.  The one part that I actually liked quite a bit and could have been part of a BETTER Fantasy Island adaptation was the guy who wanted to be a war hero and the twists that story goes in, while certainly corny, at least RESONATE on some level.  It’s even a decently looking movie all things considered with the island looking quite lovely and a few nice effects moments here and there that aren’t too flashy but get the job done and keeps up a nice mystique to everything that’s going on.  With this production, this cast, and even a BIT of the premises set up for the individual fantasies, I could see something like a Twilight Zone style anthology working; especially since horror is one of the few genres where anthologies still get made.  At one point we might have been getting something like that, but then the rest of the movie happens and this fantasy turns into an absolute nightmare.

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Apparently she’s the ONLY person on the planet asking for a third Hostel sequel.

The biggest problem is that they overegg the pudding and make everything just too darn complicated.  There is simply no need for there to be a greater conspiracy going on here given the premise, and yet they constantly throw twists and turns at us that don’t make any sense and makes things confusing instead of ambiguous.  Sometimes it’s straight up magic and other times it requires tangible resources, cash, and human beings.  For whatever reason three of the four stories intersect but then the fourth one doesn’t have any real time connection to the others.  Heck, we’ve got Michael Rooker on hand who apparently had NOTHING better to do, and he’s stuck on the island as some sort of private investigator turned survivalist dude which only complicates matters further.  I mean he’s easily my favorite part about the movie since he’s hilarious at a time when everything else was a mess, but in a better movie he’d be cut out faster than Tom Bombadil from Peter Jackson’s adaptation!  And it’s not just basic internal logic or a bad joke placed here and there; by trying to merge all the narratives into one the themes of the movie get lost in the process and it’s really unclear exactly what the POINT of all this is or how we’re supposed to feel about the characters.

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“After Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I wished to be in another heavily nostalgic movie to keep my career going, BUT LOOK AT ME NOW!!”

And to top ALL of that off, it’s really not scary!  None of the added elements to make this a horror film feel the least bit organic to the premise of the film.  If the movie actually HAD been a series of monkey’s paw wishes with terrifying yet insightful outcomes then it could have had some genuine power to it, but there’s clearly a nefarious thumb pressing on the scale and so the points where it DOES try to get scary feel manufactured and forced.  Not only is Rourke throwing out a lot of bull spit nonsense about fantasies playing out to their “logical conclusion” (yeah, tell that to the guy who’s mouth is sown shut) which in no way genuinely reflects the inner demons of those who wished for these things, they ALSO just randomly spawn zombies for no reason that kind of messes up with the message we’re going for, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but if The Twilight Zone episode Four O’clock ended with  shrinking Oliver Crangle as a result of his outsized ego making him blind to his own sins AND THEN Jason Voorhees showed up to chop his head off, it’d kind of take away the power of the scene, wouldn’t you say?  And that twist ending.  My GOODNESS that twist ending!  As ridiculous as some of Shyamalan’s twists have been, he at least understood how a twist is supposed to work; there has to be something genuinely hidden from the audience that recontexualizes the film we’ve seen up to that point, and they shouldn’t be directly contradicted by the movie we’ve seen up to that point in an effort to hide it.  The only way that certain things in this movie happened the way they did is if the characters KNEW that an audience was watching and was playing up certain things simply for our benefit and no one else’s.  It’s utterly asinine when the movie stops dead in its tracks about fifteen minutes before the movie ends to try and convince us its clever than it is, and the only way it could have been WORSE is if they also did a random callback to the TV show as the final line of the movie to try and convince us this has anything to do with that.  OH WAIT, THEY DO THAT TOO!!

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And he was two days away from retirement…

I could get histrionic here and say something snarky like “my fantasy is for this movie to disappear” but frankly I’m just not in the mood to put in that kind of effort.  I was annoyed throughout most of the movie and then got a fair bit steamed towards the end as everything started to crash and burn in such a careless and haphazard way.  There’s SO much potential to make an interesting movie with the premise they have here, but every attempt to make it a horror film just takes more and more away from the very core of this movie until nothing is left except yet another badly made waste of time.  Don’t see this movie; not at full price, not at a matinee, not when it gets a home release.  MAYBE if you’re a huge fan of the TV show and wanted to dissect it piece by piece to show why the original was better, well then have at it pal!  In a weird way, I guess it DOES fulfill your fantasy!  Me, I’ll just stick with better horror movies this year, like… um… well I’m sure The Lighthouse is out on blu ray by now.  See, THAT’S a horror movie on a fantastical island!!

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