Thoughts on “Fantasy Island”

This horror movie is jumping the queue a bit, since I watched it recently but wanted to get my thoughts down on it earlier since there are a lot of them and I didn’t want to forget them.

I have an interesting set of connections to this movie.  It’s from Blumhouse, and I have some experience with those movies, having already talked about “Get Out” and “Truth or Dare”.  There’s actually another link from that last movie, as Lucy Hale is in that one as well as in “Fantasy Island”, and as you all know she was also prominent in “Pretty Little Liars”.  It was these connections that made me decide that it might be worth giving this movie a try when I saw it for a reasonable price.

But the more important connection is that I am old enough to have watched and enjoyed the original “Fantasy Island” series, and so am among the audience who would a) recognize the name and b) be potentially interested in this revival.  What happened here, though, is that they decided to remake it as pretty much a pure horror movie.  This is a very brave move, since they also seem to want to at least keep the trappings of the show.  But the show itself was pretty much a “feel good” show.  Every fantasy had complications that led to drama, but we all knew at the end of the show that things were going to work out for the best for them.  In that sense, it was a lot like “Love Boat”, in that in both shows there would be obstacles and complications, and at times what they went in expecting would not be how things ended, but at the end their lives would be better for the experience.  This, of course, is not how a horror story works out.  While at the end of it all the ones who survive, at least, might have things work out for them — they finally manage to bond with someone they could love or they use the experience to overcome personal trauma or they reconcile with family members, and so on — this involves a bunch of people dying, usually, and at least being traumatized.  So this marks a rather sharp divergence from what the people who remember the original series fondly were used to.

This, then, is quite risky.  The very people most interested in the setting itself will be the ones who might be put off by the change in tone if it isn’t handled properly.  The best way the movie can try to deal with that is by making the new premise follow from an unanswered question or underlying issue that people might have wondered about from the original series, and then try to answer it in a dark way.  But this would still be a subversion, and there is a real risk that fans of the original show won’t like the subversion.  Additionally, if you want to appeal to new viewers who don’t remember the show, you’ll need to make it a good horror story in its own right and can’t tie it too tightly to the Fantasy Island mythos.  So you’d need to create a darker version of the original show and make it into a good horror story on top of that.

That’s a tall order.  The movie didn’t manage it.

Before I get into that, let me get this out of the way:  the replacement Mr. Roarke doesn’t have anywhere near the charisma as the original.  Since the original was Ricardo Montalban, that was pretty much a given.  But Michael Pena is significantly less charismatic, and I remembered him as the goofy sidekick in “Ant-Man”, which didn’t help.  And making this movie a horror movie meant that no matter what route was taken, he had to be incredibly charismatic.  If he was going to be an outright villain, he needed to be so charming that we wouldn’t expect it, or at least would have the dissonance between his charming exterior and the evil underneath.  If he was going to be a sympathetic character, he needed to charm to make us feel sympathy for him despite his, well, having to be involved directly in whatever evil was going on.  Given this, Pena was a rather odd choice, and one that did hurt the movie a bit, at least speaking as someone who was a fan of the original series, because it was noticeable, and I noticed even when I should be noticing other things.

As it turns out, one of the flaws in the movie is that it doesn’t really seem to know what sort of movie it wants to be.  Since this is a very recent movie and I’m going to talk about the plot in detail, I will continue this below the fold.

Probably the plot that would be the easiest to use to fulfill all the above obligations is to use Shamus Young’s comment on Silent Hill from his discussions of “Silent Hill:  Origins”:

(You could also argue that their plans worked and that Silent Hill is now the conduit to a world where your dreams become real – but flawed human beings keep dragging their own personal baggage into the place and inadvertently crafting themselves their own custom-built version of hell. Since each person sees the cursed Silent Hill differently, this actually makes sense to me.)

So we could keep the original idea that many if not most of the guests actually have a wonderful experience, but for a number of them their own personal baggage and traumas come into play and turn the fantasies into something much darker.  There are hints of this in the movie, actually, as at one point one of the guests asks if this is a fantasy or therapy, and Roarke replies that if she’s lucky it will be both, which could imply that she could bring her trauma into the fantasy and hopefully resolve it (and when we find out the truth this could be take on a far more sinister role).  Also, he insists that they must see the fantasy through to its natural end and also notes that fantasies don’t always work out as people would expect.  Given the clearly supernatural nature of the island, I would have rathered they be locked into the fantasy and so be unable to escape rather than seemingly having that be more of an option, which then would have them locked inside their fantasies.  With the trauma that they all had, this then could have the fantasies go dark, and since their trauma is actually shared — I’ll get to that later — that could provide a way to unite them into a shared fantasy and break free of it at the end.

Instead, the movie really doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.  The obvious plot when things start going wrong is that the island and Roarke himself are evil.  The movie starts with him being directly involved in a brutal kidnapping, and the woman from that scene is later put into a position to be tortured by one of the other guests who asked to get revenge on her bullies.  Later, once they escape, they meet a reporter and former guest who insists that Roarke is completely evil.  So these hints suggest that Roarke and the island are evil and that all of these fantasies are there just for them to, in fact, torture the guests.

But then the movie shifts to suggesting that Roarke is caught in his own fantasy, and has to stay on the island to keep it going.  His beloved wife was dying of a fatal disease, it seems, when he met her, and when she died he entered his own fantasy to bring her back to life.  But he specified that she was to return to him how she was when he met her, which meant that she had the fatal disease and didn’t know him.  So she keeps dying and getting reborn, and he stays on the island just to keep seeing her.  This plotline would have worked really, really well with my suggested plot, as it’s pretty much the plot of “Silent Hill 2”.  She comes back the way she does precisely because his issues over her death — and you could even steal his having killed her himself to put her out of her and his misery — and he keeps trying to have her brought back “right” and keeps failing, not because of the island, but because of his own problems.  But it doesn’t really fit here, because it tries to make him sympathetic which doesn’t fit in with what’s happened earlier.

And then they add the final plot element, which is what’s supposed to make us think Roarke is worthy of sympathy.  It turns out that the whole thing is actually the fantasy of one of them, the bullied woman, Melanie.  It turns out that she was supposed to go on a date with a guy, the first guy that ever really seemed to like her — and since she’s played by Lucy Hale that’s … a bit implausible — and he didn’t show up for their date because he died in a fire, and all of the other guests had a role in his dying in that fire:  one accidentally started it, his two roommates thought he was out and didn’t check on him, and the last was a police officer who didn’t go into the building to get him out.  So she crafted a fantasy to let her get revenge on everyone who she feels ruined her life, including her high school bully.  So, ultimately, she’s the main villain and the one responsible for all the issues here, which opens the door to exonerate the island and Roarke, which is important because at the end Roarke lets his wife go, recruits a “Tattoo” from the guests, and it appears that the island will go on as it isn’t destroyed.  So in order for that to seem like the hopeful ending that the movie sets it up as, we have to consider the island and Roarke to be at least neutral if not good or potentially good.

Except they both went along with Melanie’s rather horrific fantasy.  There is no indication that they were in any way forced into doing that and that she tricked them into it.  In fact, in order to pull her fantasy off they had to bring real people there deliberately instead of using some sort of odd simulcra like they used for the other fantasies.  So not only is this an evil fantasy, and not only does it involve other people, it in fact involves other real people which is not how most of the other fantasies have actually worked.  So they essentially had to break the rules to provide her fantasy, and Roarke is established as caring about and having to follow the rules.  This, then, is inconsistent.

Also, Melanie might well be more sympathetic than they are.  Yes, arguably she’s psychopathic to want that sort of fantasy, but what she really needed was for people to acknowledge the bullying and for her to be shown that she isn’t the loser that she thinks she is.  They should never have indulged her fantasy, at least not by letting her get her revenge in real life.  And this also leads to an issue with the ending.  The woman who bullied Melanie is revealed to be technically a guest, and after drinking the water gets a fantasy.  The fantasy is to reunite Melanie with Nick, the guy who died.  Except that in horror fashion he’s a burned corpse who drags her into the pool to drown her, giving her a true horror ending.  First, that sort of ending would work as a tragic death, and Melanie at this point is supposed to be the main villain.  Second, the island had already established that it could bring people back to life, so bringing him back to life would not only allow for a better ending for Melanie — although he might still reject her so she would go berserk and be killed for that — but would also allow all of them to let go of their regrets for letting him get killed in the first place.  The full ending establishes that people can be given life back if the person who had the fantasy stays on the island, so they could have arranged something like that and built a better ending.  Melanie, for example, could have been the one who stays to keep him alive, or the bully could have done that to redeem herself for her bullying.

As it is, the movie ends on a message with the one woman character not feeling any regrets for not saving Nick, and telling the bully that the important thing is that she forgives herself, and not to, you know, make up for her past or try to be better in the future, which is a terrible message from a character who was actually feeling appropriate regret for having done something wrong and whose arc was to find a way to put those regrets behind her.  Well, I guess ignoring them and convincing yourself that you have nothing to feel sorry for is a way to do that.

Ultimately, that’s the issue with the movie:  it’s a muddled mess.  There are multiple plotlines, which don’t play well together.  There are multiple twists that, again, don’t play well together.  And because of all of that, and because the movie is still around an hour and a half, the set-ups take up a lot of time that could have been used to develop any one of them properly.  The movie would have benefited from a much simpler and more direct plot, which is one reason why I really like the Silent Hill idea.

That being said, one thing the movie does really well is drop hints about the final twist that you can pick up after you find out about it.  Melanie’s fantasy is the only one that contains a real person.  She insists on filming it with her camera and then uses that to prove that she was helping her bully, giving her a reason to be acting even she was technically alone.  Roarke comes across her with one of the other guests and asks for privacy, until she tells him what she told him so that it would be okay.  And there are some that I don’t remember right now, and I’m pretty sure that if I watched it again I’d find some more.  While the plot itself doesn’t work, the movie does do a good job of hinting at it while not revealing it.

But … I don’t think I’ll watch it again.  Roarke doesn’t have charisma to make me want to watch him, and all the other plots are too split to be interesting.  They tried to have three plots along with four fantasies and didn’t have the time to do any of them justice.  As noted above, a simpler plot that built the fantasies directly into it would have worked better and avoided the wasted time.  As it is, not even Lucy Hale could make me interested in watching it again, so I’ll put it in the box of things to maybe sell later.

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One Response to “Thoughts on “Fantasy Island””

  1. Thoughts on “Death of Me” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] movie features Maggie Q, who was also the headliner in “Fantasy Island”, or at least one of them.  So I guess either she is going to do more horror movies now or always […]

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