fantasy island became one of Blumhouse Films’ most critically acclaimed and critically acclaimed efforts in recent memory. Amid a slate of franchise sequels slated for 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 aired on television for seven seasons, and was to be a stylized update with a drastic tonal change (à la The Banana Split (2019) – read our review here). There were some things right and some wrong. Let’s break down his fantasies and follies.
fantasy island was directed by Jeff Wadlow (cry wolf 2005) and written by Wadlow, Jillian Jacobs (Blumhouse Truth or Dare 2018) and Chris Roach (Nonstop 2014).
Let’s start with the positives. The story revolves around five contest winners who are airlifted to an island where they will see their individual fantasies come to life. This creative arc prepares the viewer for a journey that could bring hoarding and terror to any number of places. The island itself is cinematically stunning, the editing is smooth, and the color grading for each of the individual fantasy locations makes them all unique and fresh.
The writers did a good job of giving each character a clear motivation and personal journey. For the most part, the acting is strong enough. Mr. Roarke (played shyly by Michael Peña: The mule 2018) is the perfect guardian of the island, the man who holds the secrets of the place close to his waistcoat. Melanie (Lucy Hale: Pretty little Liars 2010 television series) is a forward and outgoing woman who wants to avenge her childhood bully. It all unfolds beautifully as a tense coming-of-age story, and then the last half hour rolls around.
Now for the negatives. fantasy island tries to be too cute and smart, unleashing twist after twist without giving any of them time to breathe. The simplicity of this movie as a slasher or linear journey would have done wonders, but instead, viewers are scratching their heads trying to figure out what they’re watching.
Suspension of disbelief is possible in this setting because of the island, but some of the characters’ decisions will infuriate the audience. It felt like sensory overload, but not in the mysterious sense of gripping the chair. More in the sense that the filmmakers squeezed twenty pounds of reveals into a five-pound bottle.
Some of the resolutions seemed to come from a young adult novel instead of the climax of a scary horror movie. The journey can sometimes be quite fun, but the destination makes you want to get off at the next stop. That said, Blumhouse attempted to bend the genre and began to build the blocks of a potential future franchise with a more satisfying climax.