Classifying “Fantasy Island” into a genre quickly becomes a fool’s errand — and one roughly as unsatisfying as the film itself. With its Blumhouse pedigree front and center, this cinematic remake of the 1970s and ‘80s TV show imagines itself as a horror movie. But “Fantasy Island” lacks scares, thrills, gore and practically every marker of the genre.
It’s no comedy either, despite the best efforts of perennial on-screen dirtbag Ryan Hansen and would-be comic relief Jimmy O. Yang. There’s not enough emotion or stakes to qualify it as a drama. Instead, the movie can only be classified as something truly terrible, escaping any other categorization that would make it resemble an actual film.
The concept should work in theory: taking the creaky bones of the television series that aired before its young target demo was even born and twisting it to its darkest conclusion while filling it with lazy, winking allusions to a show they probably don’t know existed. An island that offers you your deepest desire isn’t only going to have people wishing for world peace; humans are often selfish beings, and what they truly hunger for is more likely to curdle in their stomachs than leave them satiated.
However, screenwriters Jeff Wadlow (who also directed), Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs squander the solid premise, somehow simultaneously dumbing it down and overcomplicating it. This is a profoundly stupid movie at every point in its overlong 109 minutes, proffering what it thinks are revelations and shocks, but won’t be a surprise to anyone who has managed to stay awake.
Its story seems simple enough on the surface: a group of contest winners arrives on a remote island, where they learn that they will be able to experience their fantasies. (Hence, “Fantasy Island.”) There’s Melanie (Lucy Hale), a haunted young woman who wants revenge on Sloane (Portia Doubleday), the popular bully who made her school years miserable. Gwen (Maggie Q) aches for a second chance at a moment that would have changed her life. Meanwhile, Patrick (Austin Stowell) wants to be a soldier, though he never was able to enlist. Brothers — and bros — JD (Hansen) and Brax (Yang) just want to party together. Way to aim high, dudes.
So the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) and his assistant Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) work to give them what they want, but it’s unsurprisingly not what they expect. The island mutates their desires, and soon what seem like innocuous wishes have caused bloodshed — but only a little, because this is a PG-13 horror movie.
This isn’t Wadlow’s first time working with Blumhouse, but both “Fantasy Island” and his “Truth or Dare” are among the brand’s weakest films. Both are nonsense from a narrative standpoint and the worst examples of horror today; they each display a lack of thoughtfulness and an absence of any real terror. The script isn’t the only problem; the visuals are as dull as the rest of the proceedings, with some camera angles and cuts revealing a complete shortage of understanding of the medium.
Ultimately, a trip to “Fantasy Island” possesses all the value of a timeshare sales presentation without the free vacation — and it’s equally a scam. Anyone who watches the film will feel like just as big a sucker as its characters who initially think they’ve won when they arrive in paradise only to discover they’re actually in hell.
Rated: PG-13, for violence, terror, drug content, suggestive material and brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: In general release