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John’s Horror Corner: Fantasy Island (2020), where your wildest dreams twist the Monkey’s Paw.

May 22, 2020

MY CALL: Fun first half, painful second half. I was hoping for Inception (2010) meets Saw (2004), but what I got was Jumanji (1995) meets Wishmaster (1997) with a dark moral lesson, a few casualties, and a dash of Escape Room (2019). MORE MOVIES LIKE Fantasy Island: Looking for more recreational horror? Try Escape Room (2019).

Contest winners Gwen (Maggie Q; Live Free or Die Hard, Priest), Melanie (Lucy Hale; Truth or Dare, Scream 4), Patrick (Austin Stowell; Swallow), Brax (Jimmy O. Yang; Crazy Rich Asians, The Happytime Murders), JD (Ryan Hansen; Friday the 13th) are flown to a remote island with no cellular service and goon-like bell hops to live out whatever fantasy they dare to dream or request. If that sounds too good to be true, it’s probably because it is. Owned and operated by Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña; Narcos: Mexico, Extinction, The Vatican Tapes), the island’s fantasy-fulfilment is rumored to be facilitated by holograms, virtual reality and hallucinogens.

Just as soon as we land on the island’s crystal blue waters, the setting is bright and gorgeously shot, and the tone is peaceful yet comedic as we meet our fantasy contestants. JD and Brax bring a twenty-turned-thirtysomething college comedy vibe complemented by Melanie’s out-on-the-prowl forwardness. Gwen and Patrick feel like the only mature contestants of the five. And Melanie just seems petty and shallow.

Their fantasies are all quite different; as different as their personalities. Our man-child party-boys Brax and JD enjoy their fantasy of a wild pool rave; Gwen seeks a second chance at happiness with a lost love; Patrick wants to enlist like he never did in his youth; and Melanie wants revenge on a childhood nemesis (Portia Doubleday; Carrie, Mr. Robot).

I love Michael Peña… but this role doesn’t fit him well—or, more appropriately, he doesn’t fit the role at all. Peña never felt like the wealthy, mysterious type who would own such an establishment and actualize people’s fantasies. He just lacks that air about him; the debonair mannerism falls flat. He felt more like one of Steve Martin’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) playing a smooth part on short notice, lacking the savoir faire mastery of Michael Caine. Still, Peña doesn’t fail to entertain or convince us of his role in this game. Likewise, Michael Rooker (Slither, The Belko Experiment, The Dark Half) felt very out of place playing a very unnecessary character, and Kim Coates (Resident Evil: Afterlife, Skinwalkers, Innocent Blood) was equally squandered.

Director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Kick-Ass 2, Truth or Dare) brings us a mean wish-gone-wrong twist on the popular television series Fantasy Island (1977-1984). Much like Escape Room (2019), this starts out strong and then doesn’t know what to do with itself. The first half of this movie was very engaging and interesting. But after that it all fell apart in its own Monkey Paw theme, breaking its own rules and disappointing left and right. The writing felt shallow; in fact, the second half felt like it had different writers entirely. It even wanders into idiotically corny territory. The stakes feel no more real than they did in Jumanji (1995). And that’s just it… I was hoping for Inception (2010) meets Saw (2004), but what I got was Jumanji (1995) meets Wishmaster (1997) with a dark moral lesson and a few casualties. Meh.

If you liked Escape Room (2019), you’ll probably like this. And if you didn’t, you probably won’t. Using a single-movie comparison isn’t the best guidance, but it’s honestly all I can think up. That’s my best advice on whether or not you should see this.

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