Fantasy Island Review: Is It As Bad As The Critics Say?
When we–my sister (my frequent movie companion) and I–first saw the trailer for Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, as it’s billed, we thought it looked passable. However, we couldn’t see it on opening night. By the time we were both free, though, the reviews were in and they were not great. In fact, as of press time, it has an abysmal 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So since I had some free time this week, I decided to check out and review Fantasy Island for myself. Here’s what I found out.
First of All, Let’s Talk About Its Roots
image via ABC
I’ve never seen the original TV show. Much like other culturally iconic properties, though, I know a little about it. Very little. Basically, all I know is Tattoo, played by Herve Villechaize, and his famous catchphrase, “The plane! The plane!” Okay, beyond that I also know the basic plot–much like the movie, folks come to Fantasy Island, run by the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), to live out a fantasy.
The show ran from 1978 to 1984 on ABC. The network would later reboot the show in 1998, with Malcolm McDowell as Roarke, but that version ended halfway through its only season.
Now Comes 2020’s Version
image via Sony Pictures
If you’ve seen the trailer, then you already know the basic plot for the movie. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.
Essentially, outside of some minor differences, it’s the same plot as the TV show. A group of strangers visit the island to live out their fantasies. Stepbrothers Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D. (Ryan Hansen) share a fantasy that’s like a lost verse of “Hot Girl Bummer.” Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants “revenge on a childhood bully.” Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to live out his soldier boy fantasies. And Gwen’s (Maggie Q) fantasy is a little more complicated. Unsurprisingly, and as shown in the trailer, these fantasies start to go awry.
Again, though, this isn’t too far off from the source material. The TV episodes often had a whiff of “be careful what you wish for” and sometimes even went as dark as a “Monkey’s Paw” scenario. (If you missed the 1902 story, the Cliffs on it is that big wishes require big sacrifices.)
Fantasy Island Review: So Is It That Bad?
image via Sony Pictures
First, let me say that I went into the movie with little to no expectations. I’d briefly skimmed the pull-quotes from the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, but I hadn’t read any at length. If I expected anything from the film, then it was that I was about to see a fairly cookie-cutter PG-13 horror flick.
The first surprise is that it’s not a horror movie. Yeah, yeah–there’s the “be careful what you wish for” of it, but it comes off about as threatening as the same line repeated in “When I Grow Up,” the Pussycat Dolls song. It’s just not scary. It tries its apparent hardest, but can only spit up secondhand baddies–characters that seemed to have walked onscreen from other, better movies.
What the movie is, for large chunks of time, is jittery and unfocused. We meet these strangers and then they split up to experience their respective fantasies. It’s unclear for most of the running time, though, how or if any of this is connected. So we just skip from story to seemingly unconnected story.
But I could have lived with this. Despite some of my previous reviews (e.g. Gretel & Hansel review), I’m really not that picky when it comes to horror. I don’t mind reboots if they have a new perspective (as I mentioned in The Invisible Man review). And some of my favorite horror films are ones that are technically poorly-rated. (This is me, just finding out that Children of the Corn, a goldurned classic, is sitting at 35% on Rotten Tomatoes.) But if you’ve got a decent enough story with a good hook, then I’ll enjoy my opportunity to inhale a trough of popcorn.
So I disagree with some of the critics, especially when it comes to the nitpicking. For instance, I saw more than one critic mention that Mr. Roarke’s (Michael Peña) linen suits were wrinkled. I mean, sure. While it’s hardly the image of a polished man, I saw that as the point. There’s something rotten about this island, and the clues are there if only you pay attention.
But where I do agree with the mass of critics is the twist. (I am hardly spoiling anything–the twist is the whole point.) I believe it goes a twist too far, or rather, a twist too dumb. And once it gets to the stinger that ends the film, I muttered an obscenity in the theater. This could have been a fun, scary movie. Instead, it’s an often boring waste of time with a criminally stupid ending.
It came as no surprise then when I found out this movie was written by the same team–it took a team!–who wrote Blumhouse’s equally execrable Truth or Dare. I understand the temptation or, if you prefer, the fantasy. You slap together a paint-by-numbers movie, you cast Lucy Hale (also in Truth or Dare), and even with a relatively low budget, you get to film it in Fiji. And then it makes bank at the box office, because you make your trailers look better than the actual product. (Truth or Dare, for example, had a $3.5 million budget and made over $90 million worldwide. Fantasy Island cost $7 million and has made $41 million so far.)
So, good for them, I guess. But if they put together another one of these, I’ll catch it on cable, if that. And Lucy Hale, I hope Katy Keene works out for you. But if it doesn’t and/or you sign on for more of these, up your asking price. Please.
So what do y’all think? Do you have your own Fantasy Island review? Let us know here in the comments or tell us on social media.
featured image via Sony Pictures
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at [email protected]