Fantasy Island came in as one of the most criticized and panned Blumhouse Films efforts in recent memory. Amidst a list of anticipated franchise sequels in 2020, this film had a lot to overcome as a winter release. Fantasy Island was released as a horror version of the 1978 drama series that ran on television for seven seasons, and was meant to be a stylized update with a drastic tone shift (à la The Banana Splits (2019) – read our review here). It got some things right and some things wrong. Let’s break down its fantasies and follies.
Fantasy Island was directed by Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf 2005) and written by Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs (Blumhouse’s Truth Or Dare 2018) and Chris Roach (Non-Stop 2014).
Let’s start with the positives. The tale revolves around five contest winners who are flown to an island where they will have their individual fantasies come to life. This creative arc sets the viewer up for a journey that could take the buildup and terror to any number of places. The island itself is cinematically gorgeous, the editing is smooth, and the color grading for each of the individual fantasy locations makes them all feel unique and fresh.
The writers did a nice job of giving each character a clear motivation and a personal journey. For the most part, the acting is pretty strong. Mr. Roarke (played coyly by Michael Peña: The Mule 2018) is the perfect keeper of the island, the man who holds the place’s secrets close to his vest. Melanie (Lucy Hale: Pretty Little Liars TV series 2010) is a forward and outgoing woman who’s out to avenge her childhood bully. Everything is going swimmingly as a tense coming-of-age story, and then the last half-hour unfolds.
Now for the negatives. Fantasy Island tries to be too cute and clever, unleashing twist after twist without giving any of them the proper time to breathe. The simplicity of this film as a slasher or linear journey would’ve worked wonders, but instead, the viewers are left scratching their heads, trying to figure out what they’re watching.
Suspension of disbelief is feasible in this setting because of the island, but some of the characters’ decisions will infuriate the audience. It felt like a sensory overload, but not in the chair-gripping mystery sense. More in the sense that the filmmakers were squeezing twenty pounds of revelations into a five pound bottle.
Some of the resolutions seemed to come from a young adult novel instead of at the climax of a chilling horror movie. The journey can be quite fun at times, but the destination leaves you wanting to get off at the next stop. With that said, Blumhouse took a chance at genre bending, and they started building the blocks for a potential future franchise with a more satisfying climax.