A horror version of “Fantasy Island,” frankly, sounds more interesting than a conventional reboot, which explains why Sony would hand the keys to Blumhouse, the reigning maestro of that genre, and let them run with it. That seed of potential, however, sails away on a tide of numbing stupidity.
A frantic woman races through the jungle as the movie begins, serving notice that this isn’t grandma’s “Fantasy Island,” the escapist TV show that premiered in 1978.
That tease is followed by more familiar images, as a handful of contest winners land on an idyllic island (played by Fiji, incidentally), before being ushered in to meet their host, the mysterious Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena), who walks them through the rules.
Their fantasy, he explains, will be “as real as you make it,” in a locale where “anything and everything is possible.” But they must see each experience through to its conclusion, setting them on disparate adventures, which — barring the odd moment of creepiness — start promisingly enough, before becoming increasingly fantastic and eventually, deadly.
The movie exhibits promise at first too, if only because it’s hard to anticipate where all this is going, in a “The Twilight Zone” kind of way. The lesson appears to involve being careful what you wish for — a tried-and-true wrinkle of such fare.
Gwen (Maggie Q), for example, has the chance to undo a choice that took her life in a completely different direction, while Melanie (Lucy Hale) plots sweet revenge against a woman (“Mr. Robot’s” Portia Doubleday) who tormented her in school.
Gradually, though, the situations conjured courtesy of director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow (Blumhouse’s “Truth or Dare”) become more and more outlandish, and make less and less sense. By the time an inkling of what’s going on comes into focus, any reasonable person would have long since asked where and when they can claim their luggage and disembark.
It’s a shame, since the general idea of taking creative liberties with such a title — one with which the target audience probably identifies by name only — sounds fertile. While there are amusing if somewhat obvious callbacks to the original (yes, someone yells “The plane!”), the assumption is clearly that the demo most likely to see the movie couldn’t pick Ricardo Montalban out of a lineup.
Blumhouse — whose hits include “Get Out” and “Happy Death Day” — has been extraordinarily shrewd about mining and stretching the parameters of horror, as well as leveraging familiar concepts in different ways. (The studio will put its stamp on another well-worn premise next month, with a new version of “The Invisible Man.”)
For the squeamish, it’s somewhat reassuring to note that “Fantasy Island” delivers PG-13-level scares, so the action isn’t particularly grisly, just awfully silly.
Granted, one person’s fantasy can easily be another’s nightmare, but in this case, the likely effect on an even moderately discriminating viewer will merely be a nagging headache. The bottom line is that visiting “Fantasy Island” — even on someone else’s dime — isn’t a trip worth taking.
“Fantasy Island” premieres Feb. 14 in the US. It’s rated PG-13.