FANTASY ISLAND

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Stars: Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Ryan Hansen, Jimmy O Yang, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Portia Doubleday, Austin Stowell, Michael Rooker, Kim Coates, Evan Evagora, Ian Roberts.

Parisa Fitz-Henley in Fantasy Island (2020)

This re-imagining of the popular but cheesy anthology tv series from uber producer Aaron Spelling that ran from 1977-84 is given something of a horror makeover courtesy of Blumhouse Productions, which is better known for their horror films like Get Out, Us, The Purge, etc. Every week a bevy of B-grade guest stars, many of whom had earlier guested on Spelling’s other popular series from that era The Love Boat, would fly into the eponymous island by plane to have their fantasies realised by the suave but enigmatic Mr Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalban), and would learn some valuable life lessons along the way.

Director Jeff Wadlow (Truth Or Dare, etc) and writers Jillian Jacobs (Truth Or Dare, etc) and Christopher Roach (Non Stop, etc) take the original concept and some of the familiar elements from the series and infuse them with darker elements and horror tropes that include torture porn, undead killers and a moderately high body count. The result is a tonally uneven mix of horror, melodrama and black comedy.

The film follows four sets of guests who supposedly won a competition to visit the tropical island and have their fantasies realised by the mysterious Mr Roarke (played here by Michael Pena) and his beautiful assistant Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley, from My Spy, etc). Mr Roarke has a couple of rules – the guests can only have one fantasy, and that they have to follow their fantasy through to its natural conclusion no matter where it leads. The guests believe that the island has special supernatural powers that can grant their fantasies. All of the guests have deep regrets but they are also carrying secrets. But they all soon learn that there is a high price to pay for their fantasies and things soon take a nasty turn with fatal consequences for some of the guests.

Party animal Bradley (Ryan Hansen, from tv series Veronica Mars, etc) and his gay stepbrother Ryan (Jimmy O Yang, from Silicon Valley, etc) want to experience a hedonistic lifestyle with an out of control rave party in a luxurious mansion replete with swimming pool, panic room, and a bevy of beautiful bodies. But a violent home invasion teaches them that when you have everything there is always someone else who wants to take it all away.

Patrick (Austin Stowell, from Bridge Of Spies, etc) is a traumatised former policeman who wants to play soldier in memory of his father who was killed during a secret mission in Venezuela a couple of decades earlier. But he learns that you can’t change the past and that there is often a high price to pay to play the hero.

Tough, workaholic businesswoman Gwen (Maggie Q, from the Divergent trilogy, etc) has been consumed by regret at turning down a marriage proposal and wants an opportunity to change the past. But she is forced to re-evaluate her priorities.

Melanie (Lucy Hale, from tv series Pretty Little Liars, etc) was mercilessly bullied at school and wants revenge on Sloane (Portia Doubleday, from Mr Robot, etc) her tormentor.

The four fantasies eventually intersect but the coincidences and contrivances appear a little too far-fetched. The subplot featuring Maggi Q is the most interesting of the narrative strands. The plotting becomes a little too convoluted, and there is a late twist in the third act that beggars belief and makes little sense given what has come before it.

The film has been shot on location in Fiji, and Australian cinematographer Toby Oliver (Happy Death Day, etc) does a good job with the visuals with many references to the original tv series. There is also some nice production design from Marc Fisichella that recreates Roarke’s sprawling house and creates a labyrinthine underground cave system.

Performances from the cast, most of who come from television series, are a bit of a mixed bag that run the gamut. Hansen and Yang continue the wonderful double act they recently played in Like A Boss. Michael Rooker appears as a slightly demented machete wielding paranoid psychotic who is obsessed with exposing the secrets behind the island. Pena slips comfortably into the white suit, but he brings a more sinister and colder quality to his performance as Roarke.

Fantasy Island has copped a caning from critics with some of the most negative reviews since Cats hit the screen at the start of the year. The biggest fantasy here though is the obvious expectation that the producers hope to make a sequel.

I must admit I never really watched much of the original tv series on which this film is based. For all its obvious flaws though I liked this re-imagining of Fantasy Island more than I thought I would. 

★★☆

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