Review: Fantasy Island (2020)

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Performers: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, and Lucy Hale

If you could have anything you wanted, but were only allowed one wish, what would it be?

Fantasy Island (2020) is a horror movie loosely based on the popular 1977-1984 television show about a magical island. There’s a massive tonal difference, and it’s fascinating watching director Jeff Wadlow take a fantasy romance series and turn it into a horror adventure film. I’m here for it, but I can understand why others might be a bit confused.

The film begins with contest winners arriving at Fantasy Island for their own personal experiences. Each has been promised a fantasy tailored to their own desires, and the mysterious island’s owner intends to deliver on them. With standout performances by the mysterious island’s proprietor Mr. Roarke (played by Michael Peña) and enigmatic guest Gwen (Maggie Q), the film offers little winks and nods to the original show that include shouts of “The plane! The plane!” If you don’t get them, don’t worry. They’re not important for what this film is trying to do.

As the various guests embark on their fantasies, the heart of the film centers around the dichotomy between love and hate, selfishness and selflessness. Gwen longs for a second chance at happiness, while Melanie (played by Lucy Hale) wants revenge on her childhood bully. Slowly, they learn more about themselves than they ever expected – and the island’s power reveals itself as less tame than they thought.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

The gorgeous setting aside, the film has a lot to offer in terms of surreal creepiness. Is it Midsommar (2019) level creepy? No, definitely not. Neither is it Us (2019) level surreal. However, it does offer some intriguing scenarios and the horrors that come along with them. The island itself has a weird Lovecraftian power, and the idea that Mr. Roarke serves the island is itself pretty interesting. That it provides him with strange servants utterly devoted to him also has intriguing potential. The island itself is almost a strange deity, something unknowable and yet worshipped and offered sacrifices.

The people who come to the island are fully aware of their fantasies, but most haven’t fully thought out the end goal or consequences of their desires. In rekindling a lost love, what autonomy is stolen from that person? In seeking validation from a parent, what horrors will you both be thrust into to build trust? But really, have any of us fully considered the implications of our own hopes and dreams? How they’d ultimately change ourselves or those around us?

Overall, it’s a creepy film that doesn’t know what to do with itself and ultimately falls flat instead of leaning into the premise. I found that the implications were definitely creepier than the action on screen. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty decent horror film with comedic moments. I enjoyed the adventure aspects and the world-building. The ending didn’t hit me as well as I’d hoped, but it’s got good bones.

If you have a chance, you may be as pleasantly surprised as I was. I went in with low expectations and came out rather liking it for a taste of tropical location horror in late autumn and early winter.

My rating: 3/5 stars

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