Jeff Wadlow (Truth or Dare, Kick-Ass 2, Never Back Down) directs this horror-comedy about a magical island run by Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña), who makes his resort guests' dreams come true ... until those dreams turn into nightmares from which his guests must try to escape. (110 min.)
Glen Good grief! How did Wadlow manage to pitch this odd, scattered, so-bad-it's-almost-not-terrible film to someone with the money to produce it? Think about it! He suggested taking a middling late-'70s/early-'80s TV show about guests learning important life lessons via their fantasy made true, but instead of playing it straight, turning it into a horror film and revenge tale with zombies?! And someone said, "Yeah, sounds good! Let's do it!" Well, they did it, with really bizarre results. First of all, the plot is batshit crazy and absurdly complicated. Basically, "da plane, da plane" arrives, and off step the five guests: vapid Melanie (Lucy Hale), whose fantasy is to torment her childhood bully, Sloane (Portia Doubleday); Patrick (Austin Stowell), who wants to play the brave soldier like his dead hero father; stepbrothers JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), who want to "have it all," meaning a wild rave party with sexy models at a mansion; and Gwen (Maggie Q), who regrets turning down a marriage proposal years ago. Just like in the TV show upon which it's based, the guests' "fantasies" may not be what they hoped for. It's all very Aladdin's genie and his admonishment to be careful what you wish for. Throw into the mix a dude named Damon (Michael Rooker), an investigator who came to the island to discover its secrets and now can't escape, so he roams around trying to disrupt the magical island's malevolent plans for its unaware guests. It wasn't long into the film before I was shaking my head and thinking, what in the actual hell is going on here? And where's Hervé Villechaize when you need him? What a weird, unexpected film this is! Even crazier, the five fantasy storylines eventually all intersect for a big plot twist. Pitch a tent and light a fire because Wadlow and his co-writers Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach should be given medals for getting this bloated camp fest to the big screen!
Anna This one really is all over the place—one plot twist after another, an island that seems to breed evil juju, and a cast of characters that all need atonement, but for what? Who knows ... until the last act that is, when this topsy-turvy tale makes one final loop-de-loop around the corner to crazytown. Mysterious caretaker Mr. Roarke and his assistant, Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley), greet the "contest winners"—aka guests—with everything they could ask for: exotic bungalows, rum-filled drinks, and the promise of their ultimate fantasies coming to life. There are only two rules: The fantasy must come to its natural conclusion, and guests only get one fantasy each, no take-backs or trade-outs along the way. The over-the-top bros are the first to get their fantasy, the most obnoxious party in the world! The rest of the guests are granted a night's sleep before their adventures begin, queue dripping sounds and creepy shadows coming to life, and the nightmare is ready to begin. I don't think I've ever seen an episode of the original Fantasy Island but I can say with fair confidence that this horror twist has little to do with it. Did I laugh a few times? Sure, thanks to the goofy brother duo. I also got taken by a few jump scares here and there, but most of the time I was just trying to piece together where this rambling journey would lead to. I can say I wasn't expecting the conclusion as it came, but unpredictability and quality are not one in the same. This one falls safely under the far from good category for me.
Glen I'm with you. I'm having a really hard time deciding whether this had any redeeming value. I was pretty much entertained, but in an eye-rolling way, and I certainly didn't find the plot predictable. It reminded me a little of The Cabin the Woods (2012), but not nearly as good. Whatever the island's occult power is, it's never explained—just some large crystal that reflects people's fantasies and a mysterious dark liquid that drips around the island. It's basically nonsense. I wouldn't call any of it actually frightening, though there were a few jump scares and a creepy atmosphere, but it's set on a gorgeous tropical island. It's too pretty to be scary! The trio of writers try to give the characters laudable qualities. When Melanie realizes Sloane isn't a hologram, she has the decency to not want to keep torturing her. Brax and JD are shallow, lowbrow fools, but they really love each other as bros. Patrick wants to be as brave as his war hero father. Gwen is filled with regret but wants to do the right thing. Even Mr. Roarke has his well-intentioned motives. That said, I wasn't especially invested in any of the characters, and when the film starts to go off the rails and evil dudes such as Devil Face (Kim Coates) and The Surgeon (Ian Roberts) come back from the dead as black-eyed zombies, well, it all becomes ridiculous. I can't in good conscience recommend this film, but maybe in a few months when it shows up at Redbox or on Netflix, you might want to check it out. For its sheer audacity, it might be worth a look. Hell, it might even end up being a cult classic.
Anna It's all a lesson of "be careful what you wish for." No one gets what they think their fantasy is (or do they?), or at the very least their fantasy plays out in a way they never expected it to. The moral of the story seems to be that there are consequences to every choice, and that while you may think you're playing out your fantasy, it may in fact be playing you. It's all a ridiculous game of gotcha, but when Gwen finds a loophole in the system and reworks her fantasy, she realizes that her life and the other players have intersected around one tragic event. What does this mean? Whose fantasy are they really playing out? I'll give it this—it isn't boring. It doesn't come close to scary and barely brushes funny, but there's a little something there. Like you said, it's Cabin in the Woods-lite: a crappier, less thought-out twist on horror. Delving into the mystery of the island is a hard pass for me, and luckily the film doesn't try too hard to explain the magic behind it. The characters we're given and the dimly lit plot line are what save it from just plain bad and pushes it into mediocre. This will end up on your home screen for much cheaper than even a matinee soon enough. I'd wait and watch it there. Δ
Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, New Times freelancer Anna. Comment at email@example.com.