“A place where anything and everything is possible.”
On its surface, Fantasy Island is exactly what one would expect. A reimagining of the popular television show of the last 1970s, the Jeff Wadlow directed feature centers around a group of strangers who have ventured to a luxurious and remote island to allow its owner, Mr. Roarke, to make their ultimate fantasies come true. But not all fantasies turn out as one would expect, and when these dreams dwindle into the depths of hell, the guests will have to solve the island’s secret to escape the nightmare alive.
Painfully predictable during its opening act, Wadlow wastes no time setting the stage for the narrative, quickly introducing us to the key players as they exit a small plane and prepare to live out their wildest dream. But there is a catch: while the island has no limits, it does have rules. The big one being that all fantasies must play out until they reach a natural conclusion.
As each of the lucky winners ventures off into separate rooms, one by one introduced to their specific scenario, you can’t help but be drawn into their world, anxious to discover and witness each of their darkest desires. While some want to have it all, and others wish to go back and fix a regret that has haunted them for years, it is Lucy Hale’s Melanie that we quickly gravitate to most as she seeks revenge on a bully who has tormented her since grade school.
If all this sounds familiar, don’t worry, it should. Much of what happens within the film is straight forward as most obstacles are overcome within minutes, preventing viewers from ever being overly concerned for anyone’s actual safety. As we (and those within the film) begin to realize that the fantasies are not a mere illusion or play on reality, the film enters its long-overdue second act.
As Melanie and her victim work to escape the clutch of the island, we continue to bounce between the other guests and their newly turned nightmares. It is this point of the film that proves the most intriguing as we witness several situations, some more innocent than others, and the unexpected direction they each woefully take.
We, as viewers, are never surprised by what takes shape on the screen, the writing is on the wall from the film’s opening sequence. However, the path the film utilizes to get from A to Z is exciting, if only in conjunction with the sheer randomness of it all.
Wadlow does well to avoid the plot pitfalls that would come from most well-established arguments incorporating the ripple effect of changing history, or even the moral issues that can arise from altering the past. However, with each new segment, we slowly begin to piece together the back story of each of the game’s key players, better understanding their motives, purpose, and limit. Granted, we can’t dig too deep or risk everything toppling inward, but for the sake of the genre, it works here.
When the third act hits and the twist we all realized twenty minutes before comes to fruition, Wadlow opts to treat the unexpected situation like all his other conflicts, providing a timely solution that keeps the narrative moving forward at a quick pace. Rather than focus on the dilemmas, we spend much of the film centered on the action, which is an unusual approach given the philosophical questions that the film presents.
As expected, the ending comes about ten minutes too late, dragging the final few scenes out as it works to wrap up its current situation while still leaving the door open for a likely sequel. And who can blame them? The story lends itself to some incredible thematic options, that is assuming the possible franchise sheds the simplicity and attacks the underbelly of its character’s psyche.
Ultimately, Fantasy Island, labeled as a dark, gory horror film, proves an adequate teenage thriller. Thought Wadlow left a substantial amount of content on the table, he does deliver just enough to entertain his primary audience. Everyone else? That’s a different story.