In theaters this weekend, “Fantasy Island” (2020) is a supernatural horror film following lucky — or so we’re led to believe — guests at a tropical island resort where their individual fantasies are fulfilled. The film is inspired by the “Fantasy Island” (1977–84) television series, but director Jeff Wadlow adapts the series into something sinister. The film follows the various guests as Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) makes their secret desires come true. But it doesn’t take long for “Fantasy Island” to twist those fantasies into dark nightmares.
This past Tuesday, Sony Pictures Entertainment hosted a college conference call with Wadlow and actress Lucy Hale — who stars in the film — during which the two discussed making “Fantasy Island” and working together.
“I had an idea for a story that was loosely inspired by ‘Fantasy Island’ [the television show],” Wadlow said.
He talked to Jason Blum, Blumhouse’s founder and CEO, about the project and then co-wrote the script with Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs. Wadlow said that Hale’s casting was suggested to him.
“It was a stroke of brilliance, I have to admit,” Wadlow said.
Wadlow and Hale previously worked on “Truth or Dare” (2018) together. Hale expressed similar praise regarding working with Wadlow again.
“Jeff is amazing. I say this in every interview: He’s the hardest-working man in Hollywood,” Hale said, adding that the two collaborate well together. “I’m just indebted to him because he’s given me not one but two shots at taking on characters I’ve never played before.”
For Hale, the opportunity to take on a new and exciting character — along with the film’s enticing script — drew her to “Fantasy Island.”
“[The script] kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading it,” Hale said, adding that “Fantasy Island” was a challenge, but that she enjoys working with Wadlow and on Blumhouse Productions because of the horror genre. “And I love this genre. And these movies are just so fun to make.”
Hale’s appreciation for the genre is evident in her work; she’s no stranger to horror films. She made a cameo in “Scream 4” (2011) and starred in “Truth or Dare.” However, most of Hale’s background is in television dramas. Audiences remember her iconic performance as Aria Montgomery in “Pretty Little Liars” (2010–17) and can start watching Hale’s new show “Katy Keene” (2020–), a spin-off of “Riverdale” (2017–). She confirmed that “Pretty Little Liars” has influenced her current film work but noted that every character she plays is new.
“But there are so many suspense and thriller elements of that show that definitely prepared me for ‘Truth or Dare’ and ‘Fantasy Island.’ But the characters are all three so different, and I never try to play the same thing twice,” Hale said.
Wadlow agreed, commenting that Hale’s work on the show prepared her for connecting with the camera and the audience, especially on “Fantasy Island.”
For Wadlow, the challenges of working on Blumhouse films are also exciting.
“I mean, making a Blumhouse movie is just a continuous process of being challenged. There is never a moment where you’re not being challenged in some capacity. I would say what I try to do is, you know, look for surprises on the set,” he said, concluding that those surprises add something special to the filmmaking process. “My favorite moments in every movie I’ve worked on were moments that I did not plan.”
“Fantasy Island” certainly seems fun and exciting — the film’s trailer shimmers with a pool party, large cocktails and plenty of fun at a resort where “anything and everything is possible.” And the fantasies seem fulfilling at first — lost loved ones returned, revenge on a childhood bully, fun scenarios — but the visitors soon realize they’re a part of something bigger. Hale’s character, Melanie Cole, seems to have a strong desire for revenge in the film.
Hale later discussed playing Melanie in detail, saying it’s the contrast between her character and herself that excites Hale, especially compared to her “Truth or Dare” character, which felt much more approachable.
“Melanie is unlike any character I’ve played before. She’s very complex and layered and damaged, and, you know, tormented,” Hale said. “And I love … stepping into her head a little bit. And I mean, that was the challenge for me, because our moral compass is so different, just accepting the things that she was doing and saying was the biggest challenge for me.”
But regardless of that difference, both Wadlow and Hale’s Blumhouse films are thrilling horror films that force characters into terrifying situations. The duo talked about their interests in the horror genre.
“I’m very interested in the dialogue between the film and the audience,” Wadlow said, “and how we’re choosing the sequence images and sounds to create an experience for the audience, how we’re creating tension and releasing it.”
He compared the making of horror films to the making of action films but noted that horror films require a smaller and more focused scale.
“Fantasy Island” plays with the focus of its story; the film seems to hide its sinister underbelly from the audience and its characters. “Truth or Dare” wore that darkness on its sleeve: with each death in the game, the characters were pushed to extremes to try and escape death. By playing with the audience and character’s expectations, “Fantasy Island” has a much more complex dialogue going on with the audience.
This connects directly to the underlying theme of “Fantasy Island.” Wadlow noted that the film’s message is directly linked to what the characters learn on the island and what the film hides from them.
“Don’t live your life in regret,” he said. “You know, that you have to move forward. And you can’t be consumed by the past because it will consume you.”
“Fantasy Island” is showing in theaters starting today.