It’s really too bad that the intended audience for Fantasy Island, a new movie directed by Jeff Wadlow and produced by genre king Jason Blum, is unlikely to have any idea that the television show it’s based on ever existed. The original Fantasy Island, in which Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize oversaw a mysterious resort where guests’ wildest dreams came true, ran on ABC decades before the Lucy Hale–loving teens and 20-somethings were even born. It hasn’t carved out much of a current cultural footprint, and doesn’t exactly merit one, though you can stream two of the later seasons on Crackle if you must. All of which means that most of the viewers who troop to Fantasy Island in search of scares will be unable to appreciate how funny it is that a cheeseball Aaron Spelling affair from the late ’70s has been reworked into a horror movie.
It is a terrible horror movie, by the way, just wretchedly unenjoyable. Fantasy Island spends most of its runtime struggling to figure out its own concept and tone, which leaves it utterly devoid of any tension or atmosphere. It isn’t actually that much of a stretch to turn the idea behind the kitschy source material into something creepier — there was often a “be careful what you wish for” streak to the fantasies depicted on the show. But the film has no ideas beyond this hopping of genres. It plays like an impulsive elevator pitch that was unexpectedly green-lit, to the great consternation of everyone involved, who then found themselves actually having to come up with a feature’s worth of material. It is neither effectively scary nor effusively silly, which is a real achievement, given what it’s about.
What it does have is a deadpan Michael Peña delivering the line “Let me officially welcome you to … Fantasy Island,” and just going all in on the pause. At least someone here is having a good time! Peña takes the Montalbán role of Mr. Roarke, the enigmatic head of the resort. Parisa Fitz-Henley plays his assistant, Julia. (The Villechaize character, Tattoo, gets only an eye-rolling shout-out.) The guests who arrive on the plane (the plane!) come bristling with different desires that turn out, sometimes confoundingly, to intersect. Gwen (Maggie Q) wants to go back and fix her life’s greatest regret, though she and Roarke disagree about what that is. Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants revenge on Sloane (Portia Doubleday), the girl who bullied her in high school and set her up for a lifetime of resentment. Patrick (Austin Stowell), a cop who dreamed of enlisting like his father but never actually did it, wants to play soldier.
Then there are the stepbrothers Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and JD (Ryan Hansen), who want to … fuck models and high five? It’s not entirely clear, though they’re the only ones in the group who seem to get much by way of a good time, as they are ushered into a mansion full of beautiful people in the midst of a party. Things start to seem off for the other characters almost immediately, though never off enough to actually be intriguing — this is incredibly tame stuff. Oh, and Michael Rooker is running around in the wilderness, ready to provide exactly what everyone’s been dying for from a concept this flimsy — explanations and backstory.
The thing about Fantasy Island is that you can get everything you need from it from the trailer, which segues masterfully from sunny to ominous, and from “omg is this real” to “omg this is real.” The film itself collapses into incoherence fast enough to suggest that the trailer is all the people behind it really wanted to make, anyway. It’s a cheap enough venture to maybe even be able to turn a profit in the doldrums of February, before ticket buyers can figure out how weak this sauce actually is. And by then, who knows, Blumhouse Productions could be pushing through a slasher version of The Love Boat. A mysterious masked killer stalking around the berths of the S.S. Pacific Princess? It already sounds more promising than this.