Tag Archives: F

FANTASY ISLAND

Producers: Jason Blum, Marc Toberoff and Jeff Wadlow   Director: Jeff Wadlow   Screenplay: Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs   Cast: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Portia Doubleday, Ryan Hansen, Parisa Fitz-Henley and Michael Rooker   Distributor: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Grade:  F

The original ABC TV series of “Fantasy Island,” which ran from 1978 to 1984, might have been a pretty horrible program, but it wasn’t a genuine horror.  That’s what producer Jason Blum and writer-director Jeff Wadlow, who previously collaborated on the awful “Truth or Dare,” have made of it—a horror movie that’s genuinely horrible, its stupidity being exceeded only by its dullness.

In a move that recalls ABC’s attempted 1998 reboot of the original, which bombed of course, Wadlow and his co-writers have ratcheted up the supernatural elements of the premise while emphasizing their potentially fatal consequences.  The fantasies here turn out to be more nightmarish than satisfying as they collide and replace ostensible hopefulness into what emerges as nothing more than a contrived revenge plot, complete with zombie-like villains.

The picture begins with Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley and her boss, the mysterious Mr. Roarke (colorless Michael Peña), welcoming their five new guests, who have each won trips to the purported paradise.  Brothers JD (Ryan Hansen, obnoxious in Dax Shepard mode) and Brax (goofy Jimmy O. Yang), who want the “time of their lives;” Patrick (stolid Austin Stowell), who wants to play soldier to honor his dead soldier dad; Melanie (Lucy Hale), a hottie who, in turns out, fantasizes about humiliating Sloane (Portia Doubleday), the mean girl  from her past; and Gwen (subdued Maggie Q), a reserved woman still grieving her failure to accept the marriage proposal offered by Rocklin (Robbie Jones) years before.

The fantasies—which, Roarke warns them, will have to follow the “natural course” determined by the island to their ends—begin, but they quickly grow awry and begin to intersect in weird ways.  Other figures intrude on the action, among them a grizzled guy in the forest (Michael Rooker) who shows up when characters get into trouble and a character called Devil Face (Kim Coates), who leads a squad of masked gunmen.  Even Patrick’s dead father shows up.

As things grow more and more complicated, the movie becomes decidedly chaotic, and it takes more attention than the material deserves to keep things straight, especially since the script is constantly tossing in contrived plot curveballs, which in the last act culminate in a series of revelations and resolutions so absurd that they leave the movie a complete mess.  Along the way, there are a few gross moments (like a “Hostel” reminiscence early on), but generally the picture moseys along surprisingly pokily, overstaying its welcome by clocking in at nearly two full hours.       

You have to give a certain degree of credit, though, to the behind-the-camera craftsmen (save for Wadlow, of course, whose direction is pedestrian).  Marc Fisichella’s production design has some elegance, and cinematographer Toby Oliver provides glossy widescreen images; and one feels sorry for editor Scott Albertson, who tries desperately to give shape and coherence to the constantly shifting storylines, even  if he doesn’t always succeed.  Bear McCreary’s score, though, bangs away mercilessly.

As usual nowadays, the movie concludes with the suggestion of forthcoming sequels (along with an especially lame “reveal”).  By the close of the movie though, you’ll definitely be inclined to agree with the survivor who acidly remarks that she just wants to get off this damned “Island.”

PREY

The folks at Jason Blum’s house of low-budget horror movies have enjoyed a remarkable string of successes—financially, at least (and some even good!)—but it’s highly unlikely that this Malaysia-shot effort from Franck Khalfoun will be entered into their winning column. “Prey” might more accurately be titled “Pray”—as in, pray you don’t have to sit through it.

Logan Miller, most recently seen as Jim Gaffigan’s scheming son in “Being Frank,” here plays Toby, a self-absorbed Orlando teen who quickly faces tragedy when he ignores the request of his dad (Anthony Jensen) that he come out to the garage so they can continue working on the car they’ve apparently had since the boy was a mere tyke. While Toby sullenly continues texting instead, his dad is gunned down in the driveway by a bunch of guys dressed—if you can believe it—in monkey costumes. Toby is suitably horrified when he investigates and finds his father’s body.

The perpetrators are, it seems, quickly rounded up, but Toby’s emotional distress leads to his being signed up for a “teen adventure” program that involves sailing the Pacific with other similarly-troubled youth to work out their problems. As a particularly ridiculous stage of the itinerary, each kid is dropped off on an uninhabited island to fend for himself for a week, learning, one supposes, a degree of self-reliance.

It turns out that Toby’s island isn’t entirely free of occupants. We’re not talking about the monkey that steals his food (darned monkeys everywhere!), but a girl named Madeleine (Kristine Froseth), who obviously has been living there quite awhile and has the survival skills Toby so conspicuously lacks. She’s initially kind of standoffish, but before long the two are gamboling about in the dense underbrush like a couple out of “The Blue Lagoon,” and he’s becoming more adept in living off the land.

Nut Toby soon discovers there’s a major problem. Madeleine isn’t alone; she’s there with her mother (Jolene Anderson), who—she explains—is unbalanced, even dangerous. What seemed to be at point of becoming a waterlogged teen romance turns into a thriller—as is demonstrated when the program’s director (Jerrica Lai) returns to pick Toby up, and Cameron (Phodiso Dintwe) another of the program participants, suddenly shows up, apparently having swum over from his own island, to perform a plot function similar to that of Scatman Crothers in “The Shining.”

But that’s not all. Via flashbacks to the time when Madeleine and her mom came to the island along with a whole tour group (joining other periodic flashbacks to young Toby puttering around on their car with his dad), it’s revealed that the island is in the grip of some malignant force embodied in a shrine associated with the place’s ancient inhabitants. The demonic power can possess anyone who comes into contact with it, and Toby will have to battle it in order to survive. Or will he? In cliché-ridden stuff like this one can always expect a last-minute twist ending, and Khalfoun doesn’t disappoint—in that respect, at least.

“Prey” looks as though it were made on a budget even lower than the ones for most Blumhouse product, and you have to admire cinematographer Eric Robbins’ ability to keep the action relatively clear under the circumstances, even when characters are thrashing about in the foliage or under the waves. It can’t have been an easy shoot, so congratulations are also due to the cast, especially Miller and Froseth, for making it through (although probably not unscathed). No such praise, however, is due the special effects folks, whose work looks really chintzy.

“Prey” will appear in a few theatres, but its natural home is on streaming services, where one should look out for it—for reasons of avoidance.