I recently had a scare which dwarfs anything I’ve seen in any recent horror film. While googling Fantasy Island, I noticed that that the runtime was listed for two and a half hours. A shiver went down my spine, motivated by terror. My questions were ‘why’ and ‘how’. Why did the filmmakers feel the need to make the movie this long, and how would they fill that time with enough interesting content?

Luckily, it was but a simple mistake; the runtime was soon corrected to an hour and 49 minutes. That’s plenty of time for a film of this genre to tell a compelling story. But Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island (as it insists on being called) is not like most films. It’s really like five films crammed into one small space. It makes me wonder if that elusive 2.5 hour runtime would have actually been needed to flesh out all the plot threads and backstory we see here. Would the film have made more sense if it was longer? Yes. Would it have been a good movie? Eh, maybe, but that might still be fantasy.

This, of course, is an adaptation of the 1970s TV show of the same name, replete with two overt nods to the show that bookend the film. Five strangers have been invited to a remote island, where they’ve been promised their greatest fantasies will come true. The five include business professional Gwen (Maggie Q), erratic flirt Melanie (Lucy Hale), and nondescript male Patrick (Austin Stowell). They’re rounded out by Brax and J.D. (Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen) two rowdy/horny stepbrothers whose entire dialogue has been imported from a CBS sitcom sans the laugh track.

Their various fantasies – another chance to reconnect with an old flame or a loved one, the desire to punish a former bully – seems interesting on paper. The problem is the characters are such goofballs (or lack any interesting characteristics at all) that there’s nothing to ground these somber backstories. Maggie Q may be the only one here that doesn’t come off as a buffoon, and her fantasy probably comes the closest to giving the film a soul. Her arc eventually overlaps with that of Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), the owner of the island and the man who invited everyone here.

If you can barely take the main cast members seriously, you will have no chance doing so with Peña. His introduction sees him loudly stomping into the room (because the sound editor forgot to take out the floor creaks) while wearing the worst suit in cinema history. It is an oversized, all-white monstrosity that looks like it was pressed with a curling iron. Whichever costume designer thought this was a good idea deserves to be blacklisted from the industry. Making matters worse is Peña’s total lack of sophistication in the role, making him appear less like a rich entrepreneur and more like an acting supervisor at an Applebee’s. His performance and character is completely ridiculous, a total miscast that would sink the film if it wasn’t already under water.

Not only are the characters poorly conceived, but the plot itself is barely held together by duct tape. Once it’s revealed why and how these 5 specific individuals all ended up here, it becomes apparent how sloppily the script is held together. Major details are exposited nonchalantly as if the screenwriters were frantically making re-writes on their way to the set. The story is not just dumb, but filled with so many twists that it’s easy to imagine there were multiple endings in play, and the producers decided to just cram all the ideas into one movie. It leads to a bloated mess that is only entertaining when it is funny for the wrong reasons. This is most apparent when a drug cartel invades the movie (yes, this happens) and suddenly we’re in an action thriller.

As silly as it is, the drug cartel end up being the highlight of the film, including one colorful mercinary who is overacting so hard with a tongue in cheek persona and exaggerated grunts/yells during his fight scenes. I have a feeling this actor wasn’t taking things seriously and who could blame him. Fantasy Island is a movie where it appears every idea the screenwriters had ended up in the final product in some form, to it’s detriment.

There’s talent in this cast – Maggie Q can be empathetic, Hale at least has screen presence as a leading lady, and the stepbrothers are admittedly amusing. But the cast rarely exhibits chemistry with each other, which is a microcosm of how the story’s disparate parts don’t really fit together either. A better script and direction may have amended these issues, but it’s possible to surmise that Blumhouse knew the stinker they had on their hands when they saw the finished product.

Lucy Hale wishing she was in another movie. Courtesy of Blumhouse.

You can learn a lot about a movie before you even step in the theater – the marketing will reveal plenty in what it chooses to emphasize. The fact that this isn’t simply Fantasy Island, but BLUMHOUSE’S Fantasy Island shows a lack of confidence considering the studio doesn’t title other features in this way. Obviously, Blumhouse is now a massive brand that is synonymous with the horror renaissance we witnessed last decade. The idea here is that you’ll see the movie just because the studio’s name is slapped on top of it. This strategy was even present, and overbearing, in the trailer.

Fantasy Island Trailer

The trailer begins with a blissful tone that implies we’re in store for some type of romantic comedy or uplifting drama. Ideally, the trailer would take it’s time and slowly reveal the sinister plot underneath, but this is BLUMHOUSE~ they don’t have time for that shit! So within 20 seconds we get the big studio logo, which immediately spoils for the audience that this is a horror/thriller, which makes the blissful tone the trailer continues to adopt totally ineffective. Instead of waiting to drop the Blumhouse tag and sticking to the formula of good storytelling, the marketing settles for reminding you of other films that actually have good storytelling.

This in a vacuum is but a small detail; it’s more indicative of a larger symptom, in which good storytelling clashes with marketing trends and the pressures to cater to every demographic. This is why we have a smashed together, hodgepodge of a film and why the advertising shows little confidence in the movie succeeding on it’s own merits. BLUMHOUSE’S Fantasy Island sells itself less in the promise of how good this movie is, and more on the trickery of audiences associating Blumhouse with good movies.

At what point are we doing more to simply reference or remind audiences of good films of the past, rather than making a good film in the present? BLUMHOUSE’S Fantasy Island isn’t unlike an actual retreat that appears to be too good to be true. The brochure shows you amazing scenery, exceptional food, exotic locales, and people experiencing the time of their lives. This isn’t entirely a lie; these things had to have happened in order to be captured by a camera. It’s a reference to real experiences, but an experience that this dumb movie can’t replicate.