Here’s the thing. I have never had any articles published about films before. I like films very much, but I am not very knowledgeable about them in the sense that I don’t know what all the technical terms mean and there are many, many classic movies that I have never seen. So, I already feel a little insecure and out of my depth and generally imposter syndrome-y for expecting anyone to read this review. And then I’ve made those feelings about ten million times worse by actually quite liking Fantasy Island.
No one likes Fantasy Island. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 8 per cent at the moment, and I think when the critical consensus is so universally against a film, you have to accept that said film is probably very bad. This is especially true when the film is directed and co-written by Jeff Wadlow, a man who has inexplicably been able to make a living churning out action and horror films that are absolutely critically reviled. This is the man behind Truth or Dare from two years ago, and the 2016 Netflix original True Memoirs of an International Assassin, of which, well, the less said the better.
But I liked Fantasy Island. I liked Fantasy Island, and now every other opinion I express, whether on this website or any other, will exist in the shadow of that one, particular opinion. Will anyone trust any recommendation I make, of a film, book, whatever, if they know that I liked Fantasy Island? Will I regret pressing the ‘submit’ button on this review five years down the line? Will I undergo a complicated legal process to get this article scrubbed from the internet as part of my right to be forgotten?
Let me cover myself a little bit by explaining that there are things about Fantasy Island that I recognise were objectively bad. Aspects of the plot are silly and convoluted, and particularly during the final 20 minutes or so there are probably a couple of twists too many. There are also moments where the film clearly thinks it is being very clever when in fact it is being very dumb.
Most distractingly, a lot of the actors give off a bit of a weird vibe. Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell are perfectly fine as the damaged Melanie Cole and frustrated police officer Patrick Sullivan respectively, but Maggie Q’s performance as lonely businesswoman Gwen Olsen is so restrained as to be almost lifeless, and Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang are just garish in their roles as J.D and Brax, frat boy brothers with hearts of gold. Collectively, it feels like they’re all last minute replacements for other, better actors.
But do you know what? Fantasy Island is 109 minutes long, and I was solidly entertained for pretty much all of them. The film centres around five people being brought to the eponymous island where the mysterious Mr. Roarke (the great Michael Pena) promises to make their individual fantasies come to life. Unsurprisingly, it quickly turns out there is an asterisk to this. It’s a classic Monkey’s Paw situation. As each character’s fantasy goes drastically wrong and their stories start to intertwine with each other, you realise there’s a lot more to each of them than meets the eye.
Maybe it’s because I’m unfamiliar with the cult favourite 70’s TV show that the movie is based on, or maybe I just be dumb, but I was genuinely kept off balance by the various twists Fantasy Island throws out there, and I watched most of the movie in a state of satisfied confusion, feeling like there were clues I was missing and that the mystery at the heart of the island was actually worth solving. When the resolution does come it’s a bit trashy but then that was to be expected considering, y’know, the rest of the film, and I certainly wasn’t left disappointed or underwhelmed by it.
Additionally, at times it’s also legitimately scary. Except, obviously it isn’t, because almost every other critic has decisively concluded that it’s not. But, hey, there is one scene with a mysterious evil doppelganger, and plenty of moments where characters die and bafflingly black liquid oozes out of their eye sockets. Both of those things were enough to freak me out a little bit. It’s, at the very least, unnerving.
In spite of its critical mauling, Fantasy Island has already made a handsome profit at the box office, and actually it probably is best experienced at the cinema (NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: I wrote this article like two weeks ago and it already feels like it’s from another century. Who here remembers cinemas? Who here remembers being blissfully unaware of the fragility of civilisation, and thinking watching and then defending Fantasy Island was an entirely appropriate use of what little time they have on Earth?); or at least, it is if you go to the cinema for the same reasons I do, which is to sit in a darkened room with your phone switched off and be utterly distracted from all the anxieties of the outside world for a couple of hours. Because that’s what I think Fantasy Island works best as; a distraction. A movie full of events and strangeness. Not two minutes go by where something doesn’t happen. Perhaps, in the right circumstances, that’s enough for a recommendation.