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"What if we did a horror movie version of Fantasy Island?" is an idea that makes a certain kind of cock-eyed sense. The TV series in question, which ran from 1977-1984, is about an island in the Pacific where a mysterious man named Mr. Roarke allows visitors to experience their deepest fantasies come to life. These fantasies would often end in some monkey's paw-esque twist, possibly one involving a small measure of terror and the uncanny; running with that and basically suggesting that every fantasy was going to boomerang back on the fantasist with deadly results is a bit cynical, but the show was pretty fucking dumb, and its main claim to pop culture immortality is pretty frivolous (Roarke's gregarious aide Tattoo began every episode by enthusiastically informing the rest of the island that a seaplane was about to land), and this is a case where a healthy dose of cynicism is perhaps warranted.

The first - of many! - inexplicable choices made in the creation of the horror movie version of Fantasy Island is that it's not, as it turns out, a horror movie. The film has been directed by Jeff Wadlow from a script credited to himself, Jillian Jacobs, and Christopher Roach, and produced under the loving aegis of Blumhouse, modern cinema's most indefatigable home for cheaply-made horror pictures designed to turn a quick profit opening weekend and then immediately forgotten, and this pedigree promises a certain amount of genre schlock; the film's opening, an in media res visit to a woman being dragged to her doom, overseen by the placid, white-suited Roarke himself (Michael Peña has taken on the role, wisely electing not to even feint in the direction of a Ricardo Montalbán impression), promises it even harder.

And yet, as Fantasy Island starts to unspool its plot, horror is only a very little part of it - like the series, in fact, it's something of a grab bag of plots and genres. Like the series, it's pretty bad. Unlike the series, to its everlasting loss, it doesn't have the thick, corny kitsch of '70s television to make it seem at least charmingly hapless in its badness; it has the slick sheen of cheap digital filmmaking by people incentivized to get things done fast rather than well. Wadlow and cinematographer Toby Oliver manage to do something I wouldn't have though possible, or at least likely: they have endeavored to make Fiji unattractive.

The story, anyway, finds a Tattoo-less Roarke (the plane is noticed, with only a modest amount of enthusiasm, by a woman named Julia, played by Parisa Fitz-Henley) greeting five guests for this trip: Gwen (Maggie Q), whose fantasy is to have accepted her then-boyfriend's marriage proposal five years ago; Melanie (Lucy Hale), whose fantasy is to get back at her high-school bully; Patrick (Austin Stowell), whose fantasy is to have a chance to serve in the U.S. military after failing to qualify; and step-brothers Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D. (Ryan Hansen), whose fantasy is to go to a party. Like, seriously. The five visitors got here for free, so I guess it's just a vacation for the brothers, but it seems like any given night in Ibiza would do about the same for them, and without having to travel to some strange island hidden from the world.

Anyway, between them, we've got the bases covered: a romantic melodrama, a combat film, a chance to watch attractive people in insubstantial swimwear (it's equal-opportunity exploitation: the film fussily explains that Brax is gay for no obvious reason other than to impress upon us that it is progressive, and thus shows a few dicks in speedos amidst all the bouncing tits), and, in Melanie's plot, some torture porn. None of these are very exciting: the film was released to theaters with a PG-13 rating, and was later given an uncut home video release that makes it, instead, a very hard PG-13 (okay, fair's fair, you can see a couple of female nipples. So a very soft R). That's a lot of tonal shifting the film needs to manage, and Wadlow approaches this challenge by smoothing everything into grey paste. The whole thing is generically thriller-ish, thanks primarily to the use of heavy-handed foreshadowing: the film starts showing us unseen menacing drips of Viscous Dark Liquid even before the fantasies have started, leaping into acute camera angles and menacing stings on the soundtrack with a desperate lack of restraint or nuance.

The characters living through these fantasies are just as clumsy and indistinct as the fantasies themselves. The overall shape of the narrative is built around the slow reveal of their backstories,  letting us see the depth behind their apparently shallow personalities; for this approach to work, they'd actually need to have depth, which is certainly beyond either the writers or the actors: the closest anybody in the cast comes to giving a good performance is Hansen, largely because he's playing the simplest cliché of the character. Even the reliable Peña is a letdown, weirdly choosing to underplay the part. Making matters worse, the character who most needs to make sense in order for the plot mechanics to work is literally incoherent: who they are at the start of the film isn't merely inexplicably different from who they are at the end of the film, what we learn about this person directly contradicts several things we learned about them and saw them do earlier. It's arbitrary "we need a twist!" writing made worse by how deeply unsatisfying and muddled the twist is. Or twists; there are in fact two. The first is merely contrived bullshit. The second is the one that actually breaks the movie.

I think it is fair to say that the first 80-odd minutes of Fantasy Island are merely quite bad; it's the rest of it that turns it into such a remarkable disaster - almost certainly the worst Blumhouse production I have seen myself, though there are quite a lot of them that I haven't. Doesn't matter: the point is, this is some excessively stupid storytelling. And so much of it! "The first 80-odd minutes", did I say? Well, Fantasy Island clocks in at a grueling total of 109, a simply insane running time for something so indifferently conceived and incompetently executed. This is even more inexplicable given that it basically starts in its second act: almost the instant we arrive at the fantasies, they're already going horribly awry. Also, for the record, they don't go awry in fun, ironic ways that teach the vacationers lessons, unless it be Alanis Morissette-style irony. This is more like "yeah, so you want to have a fun pool party with lots of willing sexual partners wearing hardly any clothes? Bet you wouldn't want it if it happened at a violent drug lord's mansion!" or "yeah, so you want to go back in time, marry your ex-boyfriend, and have a daughter with him? Bet you wouldn't want if if the mercenaries from the drug lord's mansion ended up on the same beach where you were taking your family vacation!" Patrick's story is the one that kind of feels honest to the premise, I guess, in that it feels like a first draft of a bad Ambrose Bierce knock-off, rather than just resolving every character arc with "...and then it became an '80s action movie".

Anyway, it's a miserable drag for most of its running time, until the point at which it at least gets bonkers, turning into some unholy hybrid of Crash and the fourth season of Lost. Not bonkers enough; the effect is more jaw-dropping than giggle-inducing. But I admit that I was unprepared for most of what happens in the last 20 minutes, if only because the writers are pulling it right out of their ass. Anyway, the thing is just miserably joyless; it doesn't even have the appeal of camp. One might go so far to say, in comparison to the show, camp value is the single thing it specifically doesn't have. Still, it's comforting, in a way: if 2020 ends up killing of motion pictures as a medium, at least we can point to something like this and confidently declare, "yeah, well, it deserved to die".