*. If you’ve been reading these notes long enough you know I have a thing for bunching movies together. Not because I want to clap everything into a genre shell, but because movies are made out of other movies and I want to get the comparisons right since that plays a big part in how they’re to be judged.
*. So in the first place this is another movie looking to cash in on a name TV show from back in the day when people watched network television. So it joins titles like The A-Team (2010), CHIPS (2017), and Baywatch (2017). I don’t remember watching Fantasy Island very much when I was younger, but I did get the sense here that they were really diverging from the spirit of the original.
*. Which brings us to a second basket, signaled by the full title of the movie: Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island. This lets us know that it’s coming to us courtesy of the highly profitable horror factory, giving you some idea of the direction it’s going to take. These fantasies will be nightmares.
*. Alas, the Blumhouse name may be in the title but there’s none of the Blumhouse magic. That should come as no surprise, since the creative team — director Jeff Wadlow, co-screenwriters Wadlow, Chris Roach, and Jillian Jacobs, and star Lucy Hale — all came here directly from Truth or Dare, one of Blumhouse’s worst productions. I can’t say I’m looking forward to their next effort.
*. But while both these labels (TV-show movie, Blumhouse production) apply, I thought Fantasy Island had more in common with another genre of film I’ve talked about previously. This is the simulacrum movie, one where reality turns into a plastic environment where nothing is in fact real. These movies kicked off in a big way with The Matrix, The Truman Show, and Dark City, but with advances in CGI and the coming dominance of video games as a form of popular entertainment they have really taken over.
*. I’m thinking of such virtual-reality movies as Ready Player One and Serenity, though the aesthetic is also a big part of the action genre in movies like the John Wick franchise and even horror, as we saw in It Chapter One and Two (the latter film being very much in play here, with Mr. Roarke in the role of Pennywise).
*. But the simulacrum is more than an aesthetic. Virtual reality, by erasing reality, drains these films of meaning. Even death has no sting because you may have an extra life to use in the game, or you can just imagine yourself alive again. Nothing ever ends; the game is simply reset.
*. That’s operative in Fantasy Island as well, where the mythology of the island — a fountain in a cave that makes dreams and desires real, or “real” — is stretched at the end to finesse death itself. I mean, if JD comes back to life, can’t it only be as one of those tar-filled doppelgangers? In any event, everything and nothing is real. So who cares?
*. To try and cut this analysis short, I didn’t care for Fantasy Island on philosophical and aesthetic grounds. I also thought it was a lousy movie. Not quite as lousy as the critical consensus had it, but still pretty awful.
*. The idea had some promise, and I liked the way they tried to tie the different fantasies together. I also thought the way things kept moving around meant there were few dull spots. But at the same time there was nothing that caught my attention either. I kept anticipating something interesting was about to happen and being disappointed. But at least the anticipation part of it was fun.
*. I should add too that I was watching the unrated version on DVD. I wonder if there’s anyone who watches the theatrical version on a DVD if they’re given a choice between theatrical and unrated. I’m not sure why they would.
*. I like Michael Peña, which is why it’s so hard to see him being used like this. Mr. Roarke should be a great part, but what they do to the character here makes him a hopeless character. With all that’s going on in this movie did they really need to give Roarke a back story too? One this uninteresting?
*. As usual with a Blumhouse movie the budget was tiny so it made money. It’s a shame that given this material they couldn’t have come up with a more intelligent script though. How awful is it that when the gang enter the cave they simply all decide to wander off on their own? Couldn’t they have come up with something a little better than that? Or something that made a more sense in terms of how the hydraulics of the fantasies actually worked?
*. But then, none of these virtual reality movies have to make sense because sense is a criterion that only belongs to the world of naturalism, of cause and effect, life and death. This is twenty-first century cinema. This is fantasy island.