Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, based on the 1984 ABC television series of the same name, has a very simple premise—somewhere, there is an island that makes your dreams come true. The mysterious Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) runs it with his ominous staff and apparently invites various people to visit and live out their dreams. With such a concept, of course, things will quickly go awry.
The plot revolves around a group of five people who have won a sweepstakes to come to the aptly titled Fantasy Island, which supposedly fulfills your greatest fantasy based on a one–page questionnaire. The ridiculousness of this is not lost on the winners, who have a number of different theories as to how the island supposedly works, from holograms to hallucinogens in their drinks. Each time they enter their fantasy, they believe it to be fabricated—but with threats of death and sightings of the impossible, they soon realize that Fantasy Island is far from fake.
While the movie markets itself as a horror, it's not the intense, psychological terror–filled thriller its trailers make it out to be. In actuality, it's more a suspenseful adventure movie with a hint of comedy and a smattering of scares. A few cheap shots were thrown in throughout, such as a character’s doppelgänger falling from the ceiling and following her around silently or a child turning evil at the last moment, but there’s no intense feeling of actual fright. Probably the most reoccurring scare—if it can even be called a scare—is the murky black water dripping from the ceiling in various places throughout the island, hinting at something menacing beneath its beauty.
While Fantasy Island isn't actually scary, it's a tightly written story. As the movie advances, various plot twists come into play, and it's nearly impossible to get bored while watching. Just as the characters begin to realize that their fantasies are actually reality and their lives are in danger, another wrench is thrown in their survival: their fantasies are actually all connected.
Despite its ensemble cast, this movie’s emphasis on its characters actually gives it a surprising amount of emotional weight for what may seem to be a silly sort of horror. Even in the presentation of their fantasies, the depth of these fictional characters seems endless—Gwen (Maggie Q) has a deep regret because she rejected her boyfriend’s proposal five years ago, Melanie (Lucy Hale) wishes to get revenge on a childhood bully (Portia Doubleday), Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be in the army but his mother wouldn’t let him, and the stepbrothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) want to live in a decked–out mansion, complete with models and booze. Finally, the hotel owner, Mr. Roarke, also has a personal history tying him to the island and its fantasies.
While it lacks horror, Fantasy Island's greatest flaw is not its absence of scares, but its final third act. [Spoilers Ahead.] The momentum of the plot twists comes to a halt as the great villain reveals themselves and is defeated, but in the final moments, Brax sacrifices himself for his brother Bradley. He stands on the island next to Mr. Roarke and watches as the plane flies away. Roarke says that Brax is to become his personal assistant and asks what he should call him—Brax tells him that he’s called Tattoo. This is seemingly irrelevant and an unsatisfying ending to a new audience member, but in fact, it sets up the 1984 television series, starring Roarke and his assistant Tattoo. Thus, Fantasy Island is a prequel rather than a remake, leaving many first–time watchers unsatisfied at its close.
Perhaps Fantasy Island is not particularly poignant cinema, but it's certainly exciting. There are a number of flaws, including its bizarre ending and lack of terror, but while it has received solely negative reviews from critics, it’s not as bad as it could be. If you enjoy a twisting adventure to watch and forget about the next week, Fantasy Island may be worth your while.