Flesh for Fantasy

Blumhouse’s reboot of the supernatural TV show ‘Fantasy Island’ is no dream vacation

“The plane!” The first words spoken in Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island are literally the same that opened every TV episode of ABC’s cheesy but beloved magical melodrama. To say that’s where the similarities end, though, would be a gross understatement. Emphasis on gross.

FANTASY ISLAND ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Written by: Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach, Jillian Jacobs
Starring: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hanson, Michael Rooker
Running time: 109 min


Complementing the network’s powerhouse nautical romance The Love Boat, Fantasy Island was a grittier prime-time tourist attraction that aired after bedtime from the late ’70s to the early ’80s. Serving up wish fulfillment alongside darker morality tales with O. Henry twists, “Fantasy Island” felt like a post-disco corrective to the louche Me Generation. On this island, desires had consequences.

This time around, those consequences include bodies that squirt black fluid out of their pupils. And so, so, so many people’s eyeballs gush. It’s like a demented installment of Dr. Pimple Popper. Apparently, the horror mavens at Blumhouse saw a fan-favorite IP about people’s dreams and decided they should totally veer hard-right into nightmare territory. Fantasy Island? More like Revenge Atoll. Or Scary Skerry.

Yes, the guests still arrive via amphibious aircraft. Yes, they all have cocktails and make small talk until the arrival of Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña). And everyone speculates on the “How?” of it all, 2020-style. LARP, guesses a geek fan of live-action role-playing. Virtual reality, suggests another. Tupac-style holograms, snarks a third. Or maybe their imported rum drinks are spiked with hallucinogens. Brace yourself, Mr. Roarke: someone’s threatening to write a “tough but fair Yelp review.”

Before their arrival, everyone filled out a one-page questionnaire detailing their fantasies. Stepbrothers JD and Brax (Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang) want to have it all. Sad-eyed cougar Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q) wants a lonely-hearts do-over. Hunky cop Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be a soldier. And thirsty nymph Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants her childhood bully to get a comeuppance.

At first, things seem rosy. The horny stepbrothers lounge poolside with their playmates: JD has a statuesque blonde named Chastity, while gay stoner Brax is up to his neck in bongs and dongs. Gwen gets a mulligan on that proposal from The Man That Got Away, and ends up too-happily married with an adorable 5-year-old daughter. Call-of-Duty Patrick becomes a P.O.W., then realizes his captor is actually his own hero dad who died overseas when he was a boy.

The tales are classic Fantasy Island fodder: sometimes sexy, sometimes sweet, a little dangerous, all leavened with yearning. It’s the reason the TV show lasted for seven seasons. But then Melanie finds her actual tormentor strapped in a chair. And lurking behind her is a burly man in surgical scrubs named Doctor Torture. Wait, what?

You know things really take a turn when Michael Rooker shows up. The wild-eyed actor is even more feral than usual here, and guides people into the bowels of the island to reveal its forbidden secrets. How does such a dark paradise generate people’s fantasies? Because of “this here rock thing,” he says, pointing to an enormous opalescent gem suspended above a well. Um, okay. Also: why are we explaining how Fantasy Island works?

One thing escalates into another, as more black-eyed zombies appear while people stumble into each other’s deadly delusions. “You’re in my fantasy!” yells one of them. “No, you’re in my fantasy!” screams another. Suddenly the fantasies have layers, and the entire adventure starts to feel like a grindhouse Inception. Questions beget more questions, which leads to a plot ridden with absolute inanity. It all comes down to some dude named Nick. Why exactly? “Here anything and everything is possible,” Mr. Rourke purrs. Somebody call the pontoon plane!

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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