Cast: Michael Rooker, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Michael Peña, Ryan Hansen, Maggie Q, Portia Doubleday, Jimmy O. Yang
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Running Time: 109 minutes
Synopsis: In Fantasy Island, the enigmatic Mr. Roarke makes the secret dreams of his lucky guests come true at a luxurious and remote tropical resort. But when the fantasies become nightmares, the guests have to solve the island's mystery in order to escape with their lives.
Release Date: February 13th, 2020
We all have our fantasies. Maybe we picture ourselves on a beautiful tropical island where anything is possible. Or to live out a life we never quite got the chance to experience. Or to make something right that we regret from our past. Or maybe it's something darker… something we'd never act out in real life but can only imagine making real.
Be careful what you wish for. In Fantasy Island, any fantasy could come true… but fantasies come with a price.
At the center of the movie is the enigmatic Mr. Roarke, the white-suited steward of an island where fantasies come to life. He has welcomed the island's guests, all with distinct fantasies, to come to the island where they will live out their dreams, but also with the promise and the warning: the results may not be what was intended.
"It's the ultimate wish-fulfillment movie," says producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse label has brought horror fans some of the top movies in the genre. "The idea of going to a magical place where all of your fantasies come true – and things go very wrong – that's very ripe for a thriller."
For Blum, the movie fits squarely into the Blumhouse oeuvre. "The reason this is a Blumhouse film is that we try to focus on character and drama and story – anything scary is organic to the storytelling and to the dramatic arcs of the characters. When fans go to see Fantasy Island, they're going to see this situation that – except for the island where wishes come true – feels very grounded, it feels very real. And because of that, it feels much scarier."
The project originated as producer Marc Toberoff obtained the film rights from Gene Levitt, the creator of the iconic television series, setting up a potential movie at Columbia with the pitch "be careful what you wish for." Later, co-writer/director/producer Jeff Wadlow, who had helmed Blumhouse's hit Truth or Dare, indicated to Blum that he had an idea for a supernatural thriller inspired by 'Fantasy Island.' "Jeff's idea seemed really exciting to me," says Blum. "I love working with existing IP and reinventing it, and there seemed like a great opportunity with this film to do just that."
No wonder that it seemed like a great idea. The original television series, which was created by Gene Levitt and starred Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, ran for seven seasons and became iconic, entering the culture to such a degree that even audiences who haven't seen the show have a sense of it. So Blum was a huge believer in Wadlow's idea – and if you're going to do a project inspired by "Fantasy Island," why not see if you can actually work with the real deal? The producer approached the rightsholder, Sony Pictures, to see what was possible. "A month after I mentioned it to him, Jason called me up and said, 'So you like "Fantasy Island?"' 'Well, yeah, who doesn't.' And he asked, 'You wanna make a movie version of it?' 'Is that possible?' 'Yeah, I got the rights.' So I responded, "Hell, yeah!" And we were off to the races." Wadlow says that the idea came naturally to him because the themes were always present in the material. "I loved the dark magical realism of the original show," he says.
"It dealt with real emotions and real characters, but manifested them in a surreal way that always had a little bit of an edge, a little bit of bite. They always seemed to embrace the notion of wish fulfillment at a terrible price and presented it in a unique fashion every week."
For Wadlow, the fact that younger audiences might not be so familiar with the original show was part of its appeal. "To me, that's exactly the kind of IP that we should be remaking," he says. "If you have a great piece of IP that isn't as present in the popular consciousness as it used to be, that's the moment to reintroduce it and to spin it with a new take on it, so that you're both engaging the fans that do remember it but also offering it up to a whole new generation that might not be familiar with it."
As Wadlow and his writing partners, Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs, began to plot out what they wanted the movie to be, the first step (natch) was to start fantasizing. "One of the first things we did was just to list the kind of fantasies you would expect – sure, we had the deep, emotional ones, but we also had the fun, superficial fantasies. And we kept in mind that the fantasies were going to be realized, but they were never going to come to fruition exactly the way that you expected. In fact, we made a point of telling the guests and the audience that up front – so we're not trying to trick anybody in that respect."
It was also important to Wadlow to offer several nods to the original – Mr. Roarke's white suit a good example – but also structural points. "The film begins with a plane arriving. I think that's really important," he says. "During development, it was suggested that maybe we should meet the guests at home, before they leave, and I said, 'No, the first time we see them is when they get off the plane, just like the show.' That's not about being slavish to the original; there's a certain elegance to that – we only meet them when they show up on the island."
Another structural choice Wadlow transferred to the feature film is the interplay of four fantasies. "For the majority of our movie, we're tackling four different fantasies with different characters and showing you how the fantasies unfold in surprising ways, as if you are watching two episodes of the original show," he notes. "For me, it was important to make that structure work before we altered it."
Wadlow says that he hopes people have fun seeing the dark fantasies play out as if the audience was orchestrating the fantasies themselves. "We are presenting a narrative that has an awareness that we are intentionally putting the characters through a gauntlet, an ordeal that will force them to grow and change and experience their fantasies in a way that they weren't expecting," he says. "I hope that the audience enjoys that process and with a little bit of glee, watching these people learn their lesson."
About Mr. Roarke
At the center of the fantasies is Mr. Roarke, played by Michael Peña. "What I love about what Michael Peña did with the role is that he feels both contemporary and timeless. I can't think of another actor who could have pulled that off," says Wadlow. "We wanted to keep him in the shadows at first, to make him feel mysterious and elusive, then over the course of the film, pull back the layers and play with the audience's understanding of Roarke – sometimes he's funny, sometimes he's sinister, sometimes he's curt, sometimes he's overly formal. There's a large section of the film where the audience might wonder if Roarke is malevolent, that he somehow wants bad things to happen to these people. They'll be asking, hopefully, 'Why would he want that, is he trying to teach them a hard lesson?' We always want to keep the audience on their toes and keep them wondering, what is this guy's deal?"
Wadlow also notes that for much of the film, Roarke's relationship with the island is opaque. "Is the island his, or is he part of the island? I think that relationship starts to become significant as the film progresses. We begin to question the power dynamic as the island starts to manifest as a character itself."
"Roarke is on his own journey with Fantasy Island," says Peña. "He has one particular rule, which is to see each fantasy through to its natural conclusion. And he warns that fantasies often do not play out the way they are envisioned. Throughout, it's not clear – what is Roarke's relationship to the island. Who is the true orchestrator of the fantasies, Roarke or the island itself? Is Roarke the island's steward, like he claims – or does he control the island? Or is he actually part of the island, a manifestation of it?"
Peña says that he couldn't help but take some inspiration from Ricardo Montalbán's legendary portrayal of Mr. Roarke. "That performance is so cemented in my imagination, in my recollection, my memories," he says. Part of the reason for that cementation, Peña notes, is perhaps that he is an American of Mexican descent and looked to Montalbán, a Mexican actor, in solidarity. "I did it just a little bit like he did – it's not an imitation, it's a personalization of things that he did. Number one was the accent, with Montalbán being Mexican. I had just finished doing 'Narcos,' where I spent eight months in Mexico City; it's a very distinct accent that they have – a Spanish accent when they speak English – that I found fascinating."
About The Fantasies
For Wadlow, Fantasy Island represented a natural fit with the Blumhouse model because right in its conceit are the core tenets of storytelling. "You want the plot to illuminate character, and this film has such a clean device to do that," he says – the characters literally get to say what they want and how they expect it to play out. "Just the expression of that fantasy reveals character. As storytellers, Chris and Jill and I, we've tried to be clever with how those fantasies unfold. We reveal more about the character, test the character, and force them to grow and change as they confront some twisted version of their fantasy."
In strong contrast to the others, Gwen Olsen, played by Maggie Q, has a fantasy that right from the beginning seems deeper and full of regret. "Gwen has a lot of questions about paths not taken," says Wadlow. "I think that's something we can all relate to – what if I made a different choice, what if I could change this moment. What's interesting about her character is that at first, she can't quite pin down what that moment is. We all wonder what our lives would look like if we made different choices, but if I said you could just change one thing, what would it be, I think people would have to wrestle with that."
"Gwen has these moments from her past where she feels like her life may have passed her by," says Maggie Q. "She didn't grab happiness when she had the chance, and now she has a lot of regret. Her fantasy is about being able to get a do-over, to live out her life the other way. But the real reasons for her regret go even deeper, and she'll have to get to the root of it as her fantasy plays out."
"Gwen really grounds the movie – she's a character with real emotional depth, which is always fun to play," the actress continues. "Right from the beginning, your heart breaks for her, and you want to see her get the life of happiness and peace that we all deserve – and she has to go through a hell of a journey if that's going to happen. It's a real testament to the character that Jeff and Chris and Jillian created in their screenplay."
Lucy Hale of "Katy Keene" and star of Wadlow's Blumhouse hit Truth or Dare, plays Melanie Cole, whose fantasy at first seems straightforward. "Melanie is hiding some old wounds from her past," she explains. "She comes to the island because she wants revenge on a childhood bully."
And that fantasy comes to terrifying life when that bully – Sloane Maddison, played by Portia Doubleday – is suddenly before her, with Melanie at the controls. "Melanie just wanted to feel what it's like to get revenge, but then she realizes that they've actually brought her nemesis to the island and what's happening is real. As soon as she realizes that, she tries to put a stop to it."
Perhaps the seemingly shallowest of the fantasies is JD's (Ryan Hansen), who has brought his adopted brother, Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), to Fantasy Island to share his wish "to have it all." They are almost immediately introduced to a wild and luxurious rave, surrounded by beautiful people.
"They fantasize about this baller lifestyle, 'to have it all,' but the truth of it is that they already had it all, which was a real connection, a real relationship, a real familial bond that they would quite literally give up their lives for," says Wadlow.
Yang says that he was excited to join the party. "Of course, I'd heard of the show, and in the research for this, I watched a whole bunch of episodes and it's a very cool show. Really reminds me of 'The Twilight Zone' and all the great fantasies gone awry. Now we're making a really cool version of that with a Blumhouse twist – adding the Blumhouse thriller to it."
Austin Stowell plays Patrick Sullivan, a cop who's always daydreamed of meeting his father, who died in combat.
But like the others, Patrick soon discovers that his fantasy goes much deeper than he was expecting. "It's a childlike fantasy to get to run around and play with guns and shoot the bad guys, but that quickly evolves," says Stowell. "These are real people dealing with regret and having the one chance to reverse it and come to terms with the events of their past. It's a scary film, but it's also incredibly relatable."
Living The Fantasy: Shooting In Fiji
To shoot the island locations, the production brought the cast and crew to Fiji in the South Pacific, where they lived on a cruise ship for the first two weeks of production. "Fiji was actually always one of my bucket-list places to visit," says Hale. "It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. We went to waterfalls, we went hiking. It was really hot, but our skin was glowing."
But if that sounds like a fantasy, the cast and crew say… be careful what you wish for. "We'd get on a boat in the morning, hit the shore, turn the cameras on and shoot a scene," says Wadlow. "The natural beauty was awe-inspiring; you just had to film it. But there were a lot of modern amenities that we take for granted – like cell phone service and office supplies – that were not present, and you just had to figure it out. In many ways it was old-school filmmaking. I didn't have a Technocrane, the cast didn't have trailers. It was rugged, but really gratifying. Thankfully we had an incredible crew that pulled together and made the movie happen. Without them, we would have never gotten off the island with such amazing footage"
Living on a cruise ship definitely had its challenges, from seasickness to cramped quarters to general boredom. But it all worked out in the end, mostly due to the camaraderie of the cast and crew.
"If you're going to be staying on a ship in the middle of an ocean, you'd better hope that the people you're working with are satisfying and kind," adds Stowell. "I'm lucky to say that we bonded almost instantly – hanging out off set, playing cards, going kayaking. I'm lucky to have had castmates who are just such lovely people."
But maybe the biggest challenge of shooting in Fiji, Hansen says, is that you're there to shoot in Fiji. "We actually had to work sometimes," he laughs. "I'd just want to snorkel and cliff jump and scuba dive all day, but I couldn't. It was unfortunate – we actually had to work!"
Release Date: February 13th, 2020