Starring: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale & Michael Rooker
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Release Date: February 2020
Running Time: 109 mins
Synopsis: The enigmatic Mr Roarke makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious but remote tropical resort, but when the fantasies turn into nightmares, the guests have to solve the island’s mystery in order to escape with their lives.
Fantasy Island is one of those 1970s American TV shows that has embedded itself in classic pop culture (“de plane, de plane”) but I actually have never watched an episode of, so I was intrigued to discover that Blumhouse Productions – known predominately for their horror films – had developed a reboot of the franchise. I was familiar with the basic premise of the show; guests would fly into the tropical island where they would be greeted by the enigmatic Mr Roarke (Ricardo Montalbán) and his diminutive assistant, Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) and they would be given a supernatural fantasy that would often have unexpected results, hitting the “be careful what you wish for” theme hard. This remake revisits the same concept but with a big-budget, cinematic approach aimed at modern audiences.
Michael Peña takes over the role of Mr Roarke, bringing with him an air of understated charm and menace that suits the character and is quite a departure from his role as fast-talking chatterbox Luis in Ant-Man. Dressed immaculately in white suits and on-hand to deliver cryptic advice to his unlucky guests, Peña maintains a strong presence in the film even if he isn’t given too much to do besides being mysterious. It is his victims – a bevy of flawed millennials – who end up becoming the focal point of the film, which each guest receiving their own fantasy to live out to its natural conclusion, whatever that may be.
Lucy Hale stands out as Melanie, the ugly duckling turned swan who wants to get revenge on her high-school bully, whilst Maggie Q’s Gwen finds herself attempting to reverse the major regrets in her life. Elsewhere, the earnest Patrick (Austin Stowell) finds himself in the midst of a warzone after wanting to play soldier for once in his life; and the two frat-boys JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) discover that the ultimate party-pad comes with a price. Michael Rooker also appears in what amounts to an extended cameo, but hangs around long enough to deliver some exposition for the final act.
The film wastes no time getting straight into its premise and splits its focus across the four main fantasies that its characters indulge in. As pleasure turns to nightmare, the fantasies become intertwined and it appears that the guests share a secret that has brought them to the island. The plot twists are extremely effective, and the film is surprisingly well-written with some genuine character development that feels earned. Despite its association with Blumhouse Productions and its self-proclaimed ‘horror’ title, Fantasy Island never quite gets to the ‘scary’ level and spends most of its time at ‘creepy’. The scariest scene is where Melanie’s childhood bully, Sloane, is tied to a chair and about to be tortured, Hostel-style, but the film refrains from showing any real gore. The goriest sequence must be the way that the island’s manifestations turn rotten with their eyeballs bursting and black goo oozing from them. It’s over in an instant, but it’s the grossest special effect in the film.
I found myself enjoying Fantasy Island much more than I thought I would, possibly because it wasn’t filled with jump-scares and excessive gore. It was a fun “monkey’s paw” tale with some beautiful island visuals thrown in. It also paid homage to the original Fantasy Island series multiple times, and made me want to watch the original episodes to see more of that ‘twisted fantasies’ concept. Apparently, there has also been a recent TV series reboot separate from this movie that also modernises the concept with Mr Roarke’s niece now in control of the island, so I might check that out too.
It’s not high-art by any means, but Fantasy Island is a great example of a reboot done right. Reverent to the source material at times, but also willing to modernise it where necessary, Fantasy Island is as charming as its inscrutable host. There’s an infectious sense of campy fun to the film, and while it might be slightly mislabelled as a horror film, it offers fans of the original Fantasy Island a slightly darker take on the core concept and is a worthy successor to the TV show.