When putting into consideration that a filmmaker like Jeff Wadlow is responsible for one of the latest horror flicks, it’s hard not to feel apprehensive while also being a little bit excited. While Wadlow is someone that has shaped himself to be nothing more than a talentless back, I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t got some enjoyment from his previous movies. His sequel to “Kick-Ass” in my book was a flawed but worthwhile effort filled with committed work from the returning cast and a few well-executed action set pieces, while “Cry Wolf” has remained one of the most entertaining nonsensical studio horror movies of the mid-2000s. It was an absolute mess, but there was fun to be had. Since “Kick-Ass 2”, Wadlow’s career has only regressed, with him directing Kevin James-led action-comedy for Netflix with the title “True Memoirs of an International Assassin” only before making his way to work with Jason Blum.
In 2018 Wadlow brought us “Truth or Dare”; a horror movie that took a relentlessly silly premise and raised its stakes to grating, unintentionally hilarious places. While there’s no denying its rank as one of the worst horror movies of the past decade, the miscalculations behind it make it so baffling in retrospect that it’s kind of admirable. In his latest picture “Fantasy Island” he reunites with both Blumhouse and Lucy Hale to bring us a fresh horror reimagining of the famous ABC television series from the late 70’s. The results? A product that barely serves as a step up in quality from his previous picture, but rather serves to only further exemplify the fascinating fiascos that come as a result of Wadlow’s own attempts at crafting horror pictures.
I say fiasco with a bit of reservation, because despite how awful this ended up being, I cannot deny Wadlow’s ambition. For starters, the narrative shifts between the characters that make their way onto the island run by Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), and with each shift in storyline comes a radical shift in tone.
We have Gwen (Maggie Q), who’s fantasy involves her deep-seated regret for turning down a former lover’s engagement proposal, Patrick (Austin Stowell), who’s dream is to become enlisted in the war as a way of remembering his late father, Melanie (Lucy Hale), who aims to make peace with her childhood trauma by seeking revenge from her childhood bully (Portia Doubleday), and finally step-brothers J.D. and Brax (Ryan Hansen & Jimmy O. Yang), who long to fulfill their sexual conquests and desire for a life full of excess and excitement. Based on that plot description alone, it’s hard not to get a sense of intrigue in just how Wadlow would handle such drastically different storylines. It all feels unhinged in execution, as Wadlow’s visual style is so ill-equipped to juggle such jarring themes. He never takes the time to invest in a remotely consistent tone or give these characters any solid development. It doesn’t help that Bear McCreary’s score is so off-balance and almost comical for the kind of movie Wadlow is trying to make. Running at 109 minutes, so much of these arcs feel scatterbrained and rushed that it hinders the talent of the intriguing but ultimately poorly assembled cast.
If anyone from this ensemble is given more of a focus than the rest, it’s Maggie Q. Despite a melodramatic arc featuring an awful child actress in the role of her daughter, Q is solid enough in the lead role and thankfully isn’t given some of the film’s most embarrassing moments to work with. Unfortunately Lucy Hale, who has yet to showcase her talent in any project that she’s been a part of, is given the worst character arc, and near the end of this especially winds up being far too unhinged and over the top. Then there’s Austin Stowell who’s simply never convincing with the dramatic moments and has a few laughable moments. In less substantial roles, Portia Doubleday is fairly well cast as the bully, while Michael Rooker is incredibly misused. The film’s best performance comes from Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang who finds ways to make potentially grating character beats humorous and entertaining, if only the same could be said about Ryan Hansen, who he spends the vast majority of the film with. Unfortunately, the biggest offender of this ensemble is by far the most talented person that was a part of this project, and it pains me to say that that’s Michael Pena.
For the record, I’ve loved Michael Pena, and he’s proven himself to be one of the most underrated actors of his generation with terrific work in “Crash”, “End of Watch”, “Observe and Report”. Even in things like “Ant-Man” and “30 Minutes or Less” he found great ways of utilizing some genuinely brilliant comedic timing. He’s a great talent with plenty of range, but his casting as Mr. Roarke is one of the picture’s biggest and most puzzling miscalculations. He plays the role far too straight; never giving Roarke any amount of charm or intrigue, and never making him intimidating. It’s such a dull and lifeless performance devoid of any charisma, and it hinders so much of whatever tension and mystery that Wadlow attempts to bring to this story.
As for the story itself, it’s chockfull of horror moments and jump scares that are occasionally intriguing while hinting at a product that is far better than what we wind up with. Once the movie reaches its central twist, which is so baffling and convoluted that I’d feel silly if I even tried to explain it, it makes us question why so much of those moments were even there in the first place. I wish I could say that I fully hated this movie, as it continues to showcase just how asinine of a filmmaker Wadlow really is, but there’s something so specific about his choices here that almost makes me curious to revisit this, if nothing else then as a hope of wondering just how it came into fruition [D].
Written by Chris Narine