Released: 13th February
Seen: 16th February
There seem to be two main ways to adapt a TV series to film, as far as I can tell. The first is the straight forward continuation of the TV series into the new format, telling a story that’s just too big for the small screen. This kind of adaptation gave us El Camino, The Simpsons Movie and Charlie’s Angels, films that told stories in a similar vein to the series. Then there’s the riskier gamble, one that takes the series and comments on it by pushing it into a new genre, usually comedy. This lets us witness 21 Jump Street, Baywatch and the eternally baffling CHiPS movies in recent years. When you do this right, you can get gold… when you do it wrong you get Fantasy Island.
In theory, taking the 1977 TV series and giving it a Monkey’s Paw twist is actually kind of amazing. The series itself worked with the idea of peoples fantasies needing to be lived to the natural conclusion so if the natural conclusion is death and horror that could work, we just need a good team to put everything in motion. So it’s a good thing we have the creatives behind Truth or Dare to make this happen because when I think “People who should be trusted within 50 feet of the horror genre ever again”, I think of the writers and directors of the 10th worst movie of 2018. Yeah, turns out they still don’t know how to make a horror film that could scare a kitten with anxiety but here it doesn’t even feel like they’re trying. Say what you will about Truth or Dare (and I did, I said things that were probably the kindest things anyone ever said about that film) but at least I understood what they were trying to do.
What’s trying to happen is several people have wildly different fantasies taking place on the same island and all of them go wrong, culminating in a reveal that’s so hilariously awful I had to stifle a laugh. The fantasies range from “I want to throw a kickass party with my brother” to “I want to be a soldier”, you know, stuff you need to come to a magical island for and none of them is particularly interesting. The one that’s closest to following the idea of “Here is your fantasy, but everything about it is wrong” is the one our main character Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) goes through where she wants to get revenge on a high school bully and slowly realises she’s actually torturing her actual high school bully who was kidnapped to make this happen. That’s an interesting idea, such a pity they chicken out of it within a few minutes.
If they aren’t chickening out of things, they’re doing dramatic reveals without telling the audience exactly why we should give a damn. They’ll hold a shot for a long time on a new character that just turned up and play loud dramatic music, screaming “THIS PERSON IS IMPORTANT AND YOU SHOULD CARE” but I don’t care because there hasn’t been any hint why I should and once they reveal the reason we should care, all I could muster was a “Thanks for finally filling me in” before I went back to not caring, which is where I spent most of the movie.
It’s impossible to care about any of these characters because calling them characters is such a laughable idea that even the movie mocks it when their one gay character (I WILL GET TO HIM) complains that all anyone sees of him is that he’s gay and claims he has layers, only for a comic reveal of a bong and some weed and the line “Two, I have two layers”. No, Brax Weaver (Jimmy O. Yang), you do not have layers. Layers imply that there is enough substance to cover something and you don’t have enough substance to cover a thumbtack.
Hell, I’m on the high horse, let me just call out the gay character in the film now while I’m here. Yes, this film has a gay character and if you have read enough of my reviews for movies where that happens you will know I am usually pretty happy when a gay character turns up because I like seeing representation. Well, I should probably have put the word “Good” in front of the word representation. I don’t even mean positive, I mean I have to believe the gay character you are presenting me with is actually gay and I swear to god I have never seen a more awkward gay man in my life. Like, can barely look at another guy, seems uncomfortable touching one, definitely never kisses one. I get that maybe the actor wasn’t comfortable, understandable… don’t make him play a gay guy then. Get someone who will do the damn job and be a convincing gay guy on screen, someone who will just do the damn thing properly. I know there are straight actors who can convincingly play gay, I’ve seen it a thousand times before but this time? Oh my god, it was so uncomfortable that I remembered it long enough to write about it here.
Now I know I just spent a full paragraph blasting a third of the identity of a character (The other two-thirds being “Weed” and “Asian”) but that’s because there isn’t much here to talk about. This somehow has even less substance than Truth or Dare had, it’s just an empty mess that doesn’t have a clue what it’s trying to do. It doesn’t do twists, it pulls shit out of its ass and pretends that’s how you do a narrative. Twists usually need to make sense, maybe even have enough foreshadowing to work. The most famous twist of recent years from The Sixth Sense is foreshadowed all over the place… this film? Yeah, planning things out takes effort, we just need an excuse to have the zombie monsters that bleed black blood from their eyes turn up in the room where the magic rock is. Oh, right, this film has zombie monsters that bleed black blood because that’s apparently how the Island does things, it creates fake people and fills them with black blood… that, coincidentally, is the same colour blood needs to be in order for a film to get a PG-13 rating because when I think “Audience for a horror film adaptation of a 1977 TV series”, I think 13 and up.
This film is a mess on every level. It’s not clever, it’s not well thought out, it’s not imaginative and it’s not scary. The idea is fantastic and they squandered every single element of it with surgical precision. If I’m being kind I’ll say I got a few laughs out of the insanity and the performances didn’t outright suck, they just weren’t anything to write home about. This is a film that didn’t need to exist, there was no one asking for it and clearly, no one involved had any real desire to make something good. It’s a brand people slightly remember that they could throw $7 million bucks at and expect to get a decent return during what I’m sure they hoped would be a slow month. It’s a bad film with no aspirations to be anything other than mediocre, and it can’t even claim it was that. It’s just flat out bad.