Fantasy Island (2020)
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Screenwriters: Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Lucy Hale, Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Austin Stowell, Ryan Hansen, Jimmy O. Yang
If you are a big Lucy Hale fan from being slightly (very) obsessed with ‘Pretty Little Liars’ (like me), you will probably enjoy this film. If you are a horror film buff, or just like a film to have a good and logical plot, you might want to skip this one.
Produced by Blumhouse Pictures, known for the horror box office smash hit Get Out (2017), Fantasy Island had a lot riding on it – especially for horror fans. The various trailers suggested a nail-biting, eye-squinting horrific thriller, but the cinematic reality was not quite up to that standard. Not Get Out levels of scary anyway.
Fantasy Island is adapted from a 1970s American TV Show of the same name which similarly explores the narrative of a magical island run by Mr. Roake (played here by Michael Pena) who brings each guest’s fantasies to life. Here, director Jeff Wadlow adapts the thrilleresque original into much more of a thriller/horror, and it is through these horror elements that the film is most let down.
Five guests are chosen at random (or so they think…) to win a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to a remote tropical resort and are able to watch their deepest fantasies be brought to life by the magical island. However, none of them seem to have read the terms and conditions properly. This dream vacation soon turns into the holiday-from-hell as each of the group’s fantasies are twisted and definitely do not live up to their expectations at all.
For those die-hard Lucy Hale fans, the film is a decent watch because she leads the narrative and manages to nicely portray a variation of emotions and personalities within the hour and 50 minutes. Hale plays Melanie Cole, an over-confident, bitter, twenty-something woman who longs for revenge on her childhood bully. This fantasy soon becomes reality when she realises the supposed “hologram” of her bully is, in fact, the real deal. After this realisation, Melanie decides to release Sloane (her bully, played by Portia Doubleday) from her torture, and the two of decide to stick together and escape the island of misfit fantasies.
Spoiler alert… Melanie is not what she seems. Much like the island.
Hale doesn’t play the usual sweet girl that she is normally typecast as – this time she gets to let loose her evil side. Impressively, she manages to pull it off – what don’t work as well are the other choices of characterisations.
With five guests, each with a lot of screen time, the narrative seems to get lost in the fantasies of each guest. Obviously, their stories are important to acknowledge, but the film starts to drag around halfway through as less interesting characters are explored too much. This helps to make the film’s major plot twist feels rushed and underwhelming by comparison.
The cinematography and mise-en-scene are some of the stronger elements of this film, with location and colour playing a huge part in the visual storytelling. The fantasy island was shot on location in Fiji, which created such a beautiful movie to look at and really conveyed the mystical sense of the island. The idyllic location created a clever contrast with the dark themes of the island’s reality.
One of the reasons that the horror felt lacking was because of the regular splash of comedy in the narrative. This mainly came from the characters Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D (Ryan Hansen), who were the jokey brothers of the island, with a joint fantasy of “to have it all” – aka a giant house, with a ridiculous house party every night and an absurd amount of money. These two provided the comic relief, which was an interesting touch, but at times took away from the seriousness of the horror at the film’s centre.
Conclusively, the first half of this film was genuinely quite gripping, yet the second half (in which a lot of the major plot points occurred) let it down – the horror was too slow and the plot twist was underwhelming.
Fantasy Island had many strong factors, and a fair few weak ones, but overall it was a decent watch. The hints of horror that were included made for enjoyable moments if not necessarily thrilling ones, and the acting of the central cast was arguably one of the better parts of the film – it was great to see Lucy Hale in a complex role so different to her usual output. The concept was also a very cool one, which carried large parts of the film, but this was far from a great horror movie overall and more an average take on a creative idea.
Written by Sophie Cook
You can support Sophie Cook in the following places: