REVIEW

Dialling up the horror kills charm in Fantasy Island

Fantasy Island (M)

Three stars

One of late 1970s American television's bigger successes was the supernatural series Fantasy Island. Set on the eponymous tropical island, a new set of guests arrived each week, hosted by island maitre d Mister Roarke and his assistant Tattoo.

The guests were treated to a fantasy holiday - reuniting with a lost lover, being feted as beautiful or successful, getting special abilities - but there was always a price to be exchanged for the experience.

Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell and Michael Pea in 'Fantasy Island'. Picture: Christopher Moss/Sony Pictures

Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell and Michael Pea in 'Fantasy Island'. Picture: Christopher Moss/Sony Pictures

It was almost the exact same plot as Love Boat, which aired around the same time, though in Love Boat the price paid for a holiday romance was usually enduring some cheesy moral. Despite its camp exterior, there was a dark underbelly to Fantasy Island. It is the pop-culture grandfather of series like Lost.

This film is something of a reimagining for the concept, also serving as an origin story for Mister Roarke (played by Michael Pena). Five guests, each winners of an island holiday competition, arrive by sea plane to a beautiful island resort, met by Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and Roarke.

Shown to their rooms, Roarke starts them on the path to their respective fantasies - each guest had shared their fantasy in the competition that won them the dream escape.

You don't get anything for free, and that applies doubly so on Fantasy Island, and the guests soon find their dreams have an element of nightmare.

Melanie (Lucy Hale) wants to meet her childhood bully and extract some revenge, Elena (Maggie Q) wants to correct one of her life's bigger poor decisions, Randall (Austin Stowell) is a police officer who always wanted to play soldier, while brothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) have shallow dreams - they just ''want it all''.

You don't get anything for free, and that applies doubly so on Fantasy Island, and the guests soon find their dreams have an element of nightmare.

Melanie's childhood tormentor Sonja (Portia Doubleday) appears, but the revenge is actual torture, not the metaphorical kind. Having long regretted turning down an engagement offer, Elena is uncomfortable to find herself suddenly married and with the child she long dreamed of. Randall's military experience is uncomfortably close to home. Partying with models in their underwear in a playboy hideaway similarly takes its toll on Brad and Brax.

There is a malevolent force at play on the island, making the fantasies tangible. On Lost, the force was usually a metaphor, or kept out of sight, but this is a modern horror, from the producers of Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Get Out.

The producers go hard on the malevolent killer style of horror - like their successful Purge series - with only a touch of the metaphysics of Get Out.

Each the four main stories reference very different horror genres, with torture porn, post-Trumpian lawlessness, and jumps. Despite all that apparent horror, I wasn't particularly moved. There were no big screams to be had.

The bones of later 20th century pop culture have been thoroughly picked over as ideas for big-screen feature films. Canadian director Danishka Esterhazy made a much better horror with her recent Banana Splits Movie, taking to another beloved show from the 70s with a literal machete.

Aussie Toby Oliver's cinematography is always good. He cut his teeth on Aussie features like Looking for Alibrandi and the doco Cane Toads: The Conquest, and has become the go-to shooter for Blumhouse Productions.

But the horror in Fantasy Island isn't going to be hardcore enough for horror fans, and it's going to be too much for the Boomers who loved the show back in the day.

This story Dialling up the horror kills charm in Fantasy Island first appeared on The Canberra Times.