February 14, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional South Pacific locale, the horror film “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” (inspired by the 1977-1984 TV series) follows a racially diverse cast of middle-class characters who go to a luxurious island to fulfill their biggest fantasies.
Culture Clash: The fantasies turn into nightmares, as the island visitors end up in terrifying life-threatening situations.
Culture Audience: “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” will appeal mostly to horror enthusiasts or curious fans of the original TV series who already know that the movie will be filled with over-the-top entertainment.
Here’s one thing that “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” movie has in common with the 1977-1984 TV series “Fantasy Island” TV series that inspired the film: There’s plenty of cheesiness to go around. The premise is still the same: A group of strangers fly on a private plane to a beautiful island, where they meet their host: the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, who always wears a white suit. All of the strangers are there to fulfill their biggest fantasies. And one by one, they begin to regret that their wishes came true.
The TV series had so much over-the-top ridiculousness (including Mr. Roarke fighting the devil) that people who’ve seen the show might already sense that the movie isn’t going to have any aspirations of being an arthouse film. However, the movie, which was filmed in Fiji, is a pretty good advertisement for the South Pacific country’s gorgeous landscape. The brand name for Blumhouse (the production company whose specialty is horror, with franchises such as “The Purge” and “Insidious”) might be an added attraction, but the quality of Blumhouse films is hit or miss.
Case in point: Blumhouse was the production company behind writer/director Jordan Peele’s 2017 Oscar-winning horror blockbuster “Get Out.” But Blumhouse also did 2017’s “Truth or Dare,” one of Blumhouse’s worst horror movies, directed by Jeff Wadlow, starring Lucy Hale, and written by Wadlow, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs. And guess what? All four of them have reteamed for “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island,” which is only slightly better than “Truth or Dare,” because at least “Fantasy Island” made some attempt to be a horror film that’s a little more intricate than a cliché slasher flick. Too bad that attempt results in a convoluted mess.
Who are the strangers who’ve gathered on this island and what are their fantasies? They are contest winners who, when they first arrive, cynically speculate about what kinds of elaborate stunts will be pulled to make their fantasies look realistic. Sarcastic beauty Melanie Cole (played by Hale) wants revenge on former schoolmate Sloane Maddison (played by Portia Doubleday), who bullied Melanie in their childhood. Nerdy stepbrothers JD Weaver (played by Ryan Hansen) and Brax Weaver (played by Jimmy O. Yang) want to live out their wildest party fantasies.
Patrick Sullivan (played by Austin Stowell) is a good-guy cop who has a military “Call of Duty” type of fantasy that involves someone from his past. Insecure and sad Gwen Olsen (played by Maggie Q) wants to go back in time to change a decision she made years ago in her personal life. They are greeted by Mr. Roarke (played by Michael Peña), who tells them that once they’ve started living their fantasies, they can’t go back and change their minds.
The “Fantasy Island” TV series famously had an energetic character named Tattoo (played by Hervé Villechaize) as Mr. Roarke’s assistant. In this movie, Mr. Roarke’s assistant is a woman named Julia (played by Parisa Fitz-Henley), who’s as calm as Tattoo was hyper. This movie’s Mr. Roarke is much more serious and aloof than the TV version of Mr. Roarke (played by Ricardo Montalbán), although one thing is still the same: He greets his staff by saying, “Smiles, everyone. Smiles.”
Speaking of the Fantasy Island staffers in the movie, they are some of the biggest clues that all is not so wonderful on Fantasy Island. Julia gets mysterious nose bleeds and has a vacant stare. (And later in the movie, some of the employees bleed black bile from their eyes.) One of the staffers is so creepy-looking that he looks like he walked straight from an audition for playing Riff Raff in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Because the movie has numerous twists and turns, there’s only so much that can be described without giving away spoiler information. Melanie is taken to a high-tech room where she thinks she’s seeing a hologram of her former nemesis Sloane, who’s tied up and gagged and sitting in a torture-chamber chair. Melanie has fun pushing certain buttons on the control panel that cause Sloane to go through various forms of torture. But then Melanie figures out that the Sloane she’s seeing isn’t a hologram but the real person.
JD and Brax are taken to a massive pool party that looks like a commercial for a Hedonism II Resort, where they’re surrounded by gorgeous people (women for JD; men for Brax, who is openly gay) and whatever they want to get intoxicated. JD and Brax provide most of the comic relief in the film, although some of their poorly written jokes fall flatter than Mr. Roarke’s emotionless voice.
Meanwhile, Patrick isn’t having as much fun as the Weaver brothers. He’s been taken into the jungle by soldiers who start off by treating him like a prisoner, and he has to earn their respect to be part of the squad. As for Gwen, she wakes up to find herself reconnecting with someone she thought she would never see again.
The movie switches back and forth between all four fantasies until some of the fantasies start to overlap with one another. Some characters come and go without much explanation. Some characters might be real or they might be part of a fantasy. And the last 20 minutes of the film are absolutely bonkers with all the plot twists that try to tie in what happened earlier in the story.
“Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” is like a giant tangled, rotting ball of yarn that keeps gathering dustballs of bad ideas on top of more bad ideas. You can try to untangle it to sort it all out, but it’s not worth it, and it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Columbia Pictures released “Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island” in U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.