Combining horror, romance, beachfront partying and action-adventure into a self-referential reboot with plenty of name recognition, “Fantasy Island” makes a lot of sense on paper. Unfortunately, the film’s perplexing script and derivative visual aesthetic collapse under the weight of a cast that, besides Michael Peña and Lucy Hale, simply can’t handle the material.
Co-written, produced and directed by Jeff Wadlow (“Truth or Dare,” “Kick-Ass 2”), the film is Blumhouse Productions’ horror reboot of the 1977 British television series of the same name.
The film, released Feb. 14, shares its basic premise with the original show: a group of guests arrive on a picturesque tropical island, where a mysterious leader promises to fulfill their wildest dreams. However, as Blumhouse’s involvement would suggest, Wadlow’s film takes the show’s basic premise and puts a horror spin on it, leaning into the island’s supernatural properties and the dark nature of its guests’ fantasies.
Co-written by Wadlow and two of his “Truth or Dare’’ collaborators Christopher Roach and Jillian Jacobs, the film’s uneven pacing and shoddy dialogue sabotage any promising story threads the trio seemingly stumbled upon.
Rushing out of the gate with seven character introductions in its first 15 minutes, the film then struggles to spend more than 15 minutes of its one hour 49 minute runtime developing any character. Skipping character development is a choice that could be admirable — if the film didn’t self-destruct its climax trying to play catch-up on every character’s backstory and dressing it up as a twist.
The film isn’t a complete waste of time, as Michael Peña (“Ant-Man,” “A Wrinkle in Time”) and Lucy Hale’s (“Truth or Dare,” “Pretty Little Liars”) performances convey an understanding of the film’s goofy sincerity that’s lost on the rest of the cast.
Peña’s Mr. Roarke is menacing, charming and completely cliche, and Hale’s playing a snarky college-aged woman forced into the center of a logic-defying mystery, similar to her role in “Truth or Dare” in its equal parts clumsy and earnest attempt at putting modern young adult sensibilities on screen. The duo aren’t on screen much, but the juxtaposition between the two characters is one of the film’s more interesting elements.
Maggie Q (“Divergent,” “Mission: Impossible III”) and Ryan Hansen (“Veronica Mars,” “Party Down”) are welcome additions at first, but lean too far into their underwritten characters. Q’s guilt-ridden, somber Gwen Olsen and Hansen’s bombastic man-child Brax Weaver take the film too far in opposite directions, coming off as inauthentic and self-conscious in such a one-dimensional thriller.
Beyond the main cast, Michael Rooker is here as Damon, a mysterious resident of the island who stays far away from the main resort. Rooker joins Q and Hansen as a friendly face with a lot of story potential left sadly untapped, and is indicative of the movie’s larger potential.
While this time around it only netted a middling February horror film with a couple entertaining performances, Blumhouse may have struck gold with this adaptation method.
Reworking long-forgotten but memorable TV shows for modern audiences could be a lucrative source of profitable horror films for Blumhouse, and this attempt proves that worthwhile talent like Rooker, Hale, Q and Peña can find new layers in classic characters.
However, plenty of bad films have great casts. What’s so intriguing about this newer avenue is the ability to set older narratives up against modern sensibilities, a route that offers opportunities for boundary-moving, high quality reboots to reach unfamiliar audiences in new ways.
A fresher premise, versatile cast and easily moldable set of genre conventions should make a recipe for a solid early-year horror movie, which is why the mediocrity of “Fantasy Island” is such a disappointment.
“Fantasy Island,” rated PG-13, is now playing nationwide.