Michael Pena

Director: Jess Wadlow
Writer: Jeff Wadlow, Chris Roach, Jillian Jacobs
Cast: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, and Michael Rooker
Producer: Jason Blum, Wadlow and Marc Toberoff
Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime

Five young people with emotional baggage win a contest, and are invited to a strange, but photogenic island off the radar. They are each promised one fantasy being fulfilled, based on a questionnaire they fill out. The caveat? That each one must see the fantasy through to its ‘logical conclusion’. Now what does that mean? Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña, always clad, top-to-bottom, in white) is the host with a nebulous past. He tells one of the participants, Gwen (a piercing Maggie Q), who is asking for removal of regret, that most people just ask for sexual fantasies. So would the logical conclusion of such a fantasy be when the participants climax? What about the consequences- unplanned pregnancies, STIs? The answer, turns out, is more warped, less logical, and quite tiresome, stretched across the 109 minute runtime. 

JD (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), step-brothers who get along like brothers in a fraternity, “want it all”, and so they are gifted a party with models who fawn and flex over them. But soon the gunshots begin, and they wonder, this was not part of the fantasy. Roarke’s explanation is that when you have it all (by ‘all’ he means sex with models in a bungalow laden with more rooms than people), there will be those who will want to take it all from you, and the logical progression of the fantasy of wanting it all is bloodbath. 

Now, the “logical” aspect is stretched to its limits, before it snaps completely when Melanie (Lucy Hale) who wants to seek revenge on her teenage bully, Sloane (Portia Doubleday). She walks into a room with a now-adult Sloane strapped to a chair, pushing buttons to have her tortured, putting out videos of her adultery on Facebook. She soon realizes that this is not a hologram, but that they kidnapped Sloane and brought her here to be tortured by Melanie. The island does not differentiate a sinister fantasy from a promiscuous one. 

Fantasy Island

But then, in fulfilling Gwen’s and Patrick’s (Austin Stowell) fantasies, they kidnap past versions of people from their lives- Gwen’s boyfriend she left five years ago for she deemed herself un-loveable then, and Patrick’s father who died in a military ambush twenty-seven years ago. So Roarke and his quaint island have the capacity to kidnap both  present and past people, and populate the island with them. It gets less convincing when the next morning Gwen now has a child building sandcastles, and Patrick and his father facilitate a shootout on the island while his father is under the assumption that they are in Venezuela, where he was killed by a grenade those twenty-seven years ago. 

For a story with so many plots and timelines, the narrative speed is expectedly rushed, as if playing in 1.5x. Characters disclose their fantasies with minimal fuss, and that becomes them disclosing their most intimate despairs. It’s a clever tactic; using a fantasy as a proxy to unravel character but it is so poorly executed, with incoherence, that nothing registers. The maternal love Gwen feels for a child that, literally materialized over a night, is only articulated and never felt, the sentimentality of Patrick’s conversations with his father too fall flat. (The artifice of counting the exact number of days since people parted is used with far too much impunity- 27 years, 6 months, and 5 days… boy, you need to get a hobby.) The narrative logic frays and flails as the movie progresses, where these bleeding zombies who never die are armed with kalashnikovs, duplicates just appear, sea snakes morph into hands, and death is just an ephemeral plot point that can be reversed with as much ease as contrivance. 

It is however worse that the sense of capture and belonging is so cavalier. People just surrender, ownership is an unstated privilege, and the obvious sense of colonized lands is given full sanction by the end of the film. Military forces are airdropped to fulfil fantasies, grenades thrown into the ocean, and the forests have this video-game gaze of untamed growth that needs constant monitoring. Questions of who owns what is brushed under the carpet. It is assumed that Roarke owns all. But you know what assumptions don’t allow for? Logical conclusions.

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