Sunday, 8 March 2020

Fantasy Island

Isle Be Back

Fantasy Island
2020 USA Directed by Jeff Wadlow
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Small spoilers.

Yeah, I kinda wondered if this would happen. Hot on the heels of the fairly recent The Banana Splits Movie (reviewed by me here), which took an old TV show from decades ago and turned it into a horror film, we have yet another beloved (to many, I’m sure) TV show, this time from the late 1970s/early 1980s, which has undergone a horror movie make over. This time it’s Fantasy Island although, for some reason, the UK certification card billed it as Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island... I don’t see why because it is definitely featuring at least one (technically two) characters from the original TV show, where guests would arrive on the island by plane and Mr. Roarke, played by Ricardo Montalban, would greet them and use the magical powers of the island to give them their fantasy (the real one, not the one they thought they wanted) and teach them a life lesson about themselves in the process.

This time around, the wonderful Michael Peña, who you may remember from his comic turn in the Ant Man movies, replaces Montalban as Roarke and we even have a kind of replacement for his sidekick Tattoo but, the way this happens would probably constitute a major spoiler so I’m not going to say much about that.

What I will say is that yes, it pretty much follows the original formula of the TV show to the letter and, yes, it’s definitely turned into a horror/adventure vehicle... albeit a kind of family friendly one, to be sure. I mean, gosh knows how it managed to land itself with a 15 rating here in the UK... I think this one should probably be a 12 at the very most.

Okay, so this is kind of a fun film but its only going to work for you, I believe, if you are willing to accept the supernatural and magical properties of the island fairly early on. Don’t go expecting any scientific explanation for anything that’s going on in this movie because you certainly aren’t going to get one. In truth, this is a little more like reading one of those old 1950s EC Horror comics like Tales From The Crypt or Vault Of Horror and, if you’re expecting anything more sophisticated than that, then you may be in for a bit of a disappointment. I mean, when you see various bad guys... such as Kim Coates playing absolutely to type as a henchman... and their eyes suddenly explode in their sockets to emit a black ooze... you know there’s something less than scientific going on here, right?

Some of the acting in this is pretty good with Peña giving the film a much needed shot of gravitas in certain places and with an equally sobering performance from the always watchable Maggie Q as one of the guests. It’s nicely put together, not too flashy in terms of shot set ups... although there is a moment where the director seems to go deliberately overboard with vertical spaces made up from trees... and it’s edited in a way that you aren’t going to lose where everybody is. Why and how everybody is, however, is a different matter and I’ll come to that shortly.

Okay, so even if you can make friends with the lack of subtlety of the supernatural element in this movie, there are a few things in this which are not so great. One of them being the fact that the writers/director feel the need to telegraph certain elements such as one character who, right when she gets a nosebleed at the start with some sinister music playing, you know is going to be revealed as something less obvious than she at first appears. And you can see all those all important life lessons coming a mile off, to be honest.

Another thing is how it’s somehow trying to be some kind of ‘family friendly horror’ movie. It just doesn’t work and I’m sure there must be a much stronger cut of this movie out there because every time one of the human characters gets cut up, or whatever, it always seems to be just off camera with no red blood in sight. The only real blood is the black ooze from the eyeball pops in this, which I’m guessing is just a way of getting around certain censorship issues. Not that I particularly wanted to see various violent deaths etc but, honestly, the absence of follow through on the things you know are happening just means the film loses a certain amount of credibility, as far as I’m concerned. At least in terms of the overall tone of this movie.

I’m not even going to talk about one character reveal when, even though that character admits to be ‘acting’ in the earlier parts of the movie, still makes no sense in terms of the character motivations and the actions of said character in one of the earlier scenes.

And then there’s the ending. Honestly, I’ve got no idea what is going on or why any of the ‘surviving’ guests are leaving the island without trying to kill Roarke and his crew. I’m really not sure why no questions are going to be asked when various ‘guests’ don’t survive their stay and, yeah, just really baffled by the bizarre denouement on this one.

The one shining light for me, which was worth the price of admission, was Bear McCreary’s score, which gives a good sense of uneasiness throughout. Alas, at time of writing this, the soundtrack is only available as a dumb electronic download rather than a proper CD but I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it gets a real release at some point. We’ll see what happens.

So, yeah... short review but there’s really not much more to say about this one. Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is not a film I could really recommend to anyone. It’s fine in places but it’s not brilliant and, while I’m glad I saw it, I don’t think I’d need to ever watch it again. That being said, I do hope this somehow allows for other revamped TV shows from the 1960s - 1980s, redone in the horror genre because, like The Banana Splits Movie before it, sometimes this is a good idea.

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