Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Fantasy Island (2020)

My notes on Fantasy Island (aka Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island)

This Blumhouse-branded reimagining of the 1977-84 TV series, which buries a credit for creator Gene Levitt in the closing crawl, is weirdly torn between nostalgia, parody and horror update.  After The Banana Splits, it suggests a strange trend which may shudder to a halt here unless someone greenlights Nightmare on Fraggle Rock or Covid-19 Outbreak on The Love Boat.  A rare genre film where the comedy relief works much better than the shock stuff, it displays a strange, almost touching respect for source material I’m surprised sticks in anyone’s memory (aside from Hervé Villechaize chanting ‘de plane, de plane’) … and yet a Sunday night multiplex audience laughed at an offhand reference to the lore of a show that went off the air well before most of them were born (NB: there was a 1998 short run revival series with Malcolm McDowell but few remember that).

Five contest-winners arrive by plane at a tropical island idyll and are greeted by all-in-white host Mr Roarke (Michael Peña) who promises that the resort will fulfil their fantasies.  The .film cuts together strands of horror, comedy, action and soap as the hapless customers learn moral lessons (or are tortured) when they get what they wished for.  Director Jeff Wadlow, whose CV includes Cry_Wolf and Truth or Dare, and co-writers Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach, craft a reasonably clever narrative which reveals that the individual stories dovetail into a greater plot and also gives some sort of supernatural rationale for the island and its functionaries.  Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on the mean girl who tormented her at school, Sloane (Portia Doubleday – homaging her role from the Carrie remake), only to be shocked when she learns the woman strapped to the chair and abused by ‘Dr Torture’ (Ian Roberts) isn’t a hologram (‘like Tupac’) … Gwen (Maggie Q) wants a do-over of the dinner date where she turned down a marriage proposal, only to wake up with five years of memory of a husband and child she didn’t have when she came to the island … Patrick (Austin Stowall) says he wants to play soldier, but actually wants to see his heroically-dead-in-action old man (Mike Vogel) one more time … and bros J.D. (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) just want to ‘have it all’, partying with underwear models poolside, only to discover that having it all means Purge-masked kill-goons want to take it away from them.  Also in the mix are Julia (Parisia Fitz-Henley), Roarke’s ailing assistant, and Damon (Michael Rooker), a machete-wielding Ben Gunn type who says he’s a private eye investigating the island’s dark side.

Peña presumably got cast because he has an accent broadly similar to Ricardo Montalban, though he’s about as much like the original Mr Roarke as Kevin Hart is Sidney Poitier – he doesn’t play for laughs, but doesn’t have a sinister or supernatural edge either, and is as much a plaything of the island as his guests.  The standout stories are the payback-for-bullying strand, with the conscience-stricken Melanie rescuing her former tormentor (who doesn’t remember her name) and the duo becoming a bickering double act before another big reveal changes things … and the party bros thread, which is enlivened by some funny-in-context lines (‘I’m very disappointed in you, Chastity’) and performances that have a panicky, surprising edge.  It’s a shame that so much of the horror/action stuff is rote run-through-the-jungle, crawl-through-the-cave stuff – with insistent shots of dripping ickiness, black-eyed zombies, a burned apparition and other stock elements failing to add up to much.


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