Movies as Product: The Horror Films of Jeff Wadlow

A group gathers together for a fun game or event. However, the group soon realizes that the activity that brought them together is deadly than they thought.

This describes the horror projects of director Jeff Wadlow. A nephew of Katie Couric, Wadlow has worked as a writer, director, and producer in film and television for fifteen years. Over time he has directed multiple easily marketable films. Most famously, he made Kick-Ass 2 (2013), the sequel to the 2010 hit film Kick-Ass.

With Wadlow’s horror projects, the ideas often came to him either through the studio or as a clear high concept product that that a studio can easily market and sell. The cast comes from television. The films tend to have a PG-13 rating when theatrically released, but have a later extended cut when released on video and streaming. Although all of these films made money, they often did not receive good reviews from critics and audiences.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Wadlow’s Storytelling

Wadlow’s storytelling focuses on convoluted plots full of twists and turns. At worst, it feels like Wadlow decides to use many story ideas at once without fully committing to any one of them. In the audio commentaries, Wadlow often brings up which ideas and which are not. He often talks about the joys of collaboration and coming up with better ideas. If nothing else, Wadlow acts as a generous collaborator.

Often Wadlow will have the characters describe a convoluted situation that will then lead to setting up a visual sequence. In his films, Wadlow loves giving actors big monologues to play with.

In Wadlow’s horror worlds, reality constantly gets questioned. Every character appears untrustworthy. Even in the best friendships, the characters betray each other’s trust constantly. Often the film ends with the characters betraying somebody else or being betrayed themselves. At the center of all the stories sits a female character who reveals herself as a more malevolent figure than originally thought.

Wadlow’s Start

Wadlow got his start by winning a contest held by Chrysler. The film that got him into the contest, Tower of Babble (2002), focused on three separate story threads. Each one features the same chunks of dialogue in different situations (an unexpected pregnancy, a cop drama, soliciting a hooker). It signals many of Wadlow’s later interests, such as parallel structures and intersecting storylines. In the framing device narrated by Kevin Spacey, a monkey typed all these stories.

The film he won with, Manual Labor (2002), focuses on a man trying to find his car in a parking garage when his wife goes into labor. The protagonist, of course, finds a Chrysler to get his wife to the hospital on time to deliver a baby boy.

With the prize from the contest, he made his first film, Cry Wolf (2005). This cut got released by Focus Features’ genre division, Rogue Pictures.

‘Cry_Wolf’

A group of prep school students invent a serial killer as part of a prank, but things turn deadly when an actual killer shows up to get them. Now Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) and his friends must find the killer before becoming their next target.

Conception of Project

Made in 2005, this marked Wadlow’s feature directorial debut. Wadlow worked with producer and fellow USC graduate Beau Bauman. The DVD also contains the trailer for Brick (2005), the feature debut of Rian Johnson.

This film centers around a game in which one player gets chosen as a secretly chosen player (a wolf) to cast suspicion on other players (sheep). This is done by drawing a lipstick mark on the chest of that player. In the final film, this happens to Owen. The filmmakers based the game in the film on Mafia, a more complicated game that has three chosen players. In an earlier cut of the film, three other players get chosen and take out Owen instead. Wadlow felt the new scene worked better because it changes the focus from Own to the plot of the story.

Of three films, this one probably has the most distinct artistic choices. According to Wadlow, it began as a slasher, but changed into a more distinct project over time. Wadlow and Bauman had genre rules they wanted to respect and many they wanted to ignore. For example, Wadlow set the story at a boarding school because he felt that the absentee parents in slasher movies were unrealistic. Throughout the DVD commentary, Wadlow, Bauman, and editor Seth Gordon talk about being concerned about the originality of the project. Wadlow also describes it as a film noir dressed up, complete with a femme fatale.

Similarly, the film has a pretty distinct visual scheme. The autumnal color palette really pops here. Similarly, the end credits have a more distinct style than they might in a later Wadlow production. It feels like a production made to announce somebody’s artistic voice.

Scope

This movie takes place primarily in one location, but filmed over several buildings in its Richmond, Virginia location including the University of Richmond. Towards the end of the commentary, Wadlow admits that they were awfully ambitious in making this movie. This ambition would come back in Wadlow’s later horror projects.

Since the story focuses on creating a fictional killer, Wadlow and Seth Gordon also create a visual “language of lies.” This includes shooting scenes on different film and exposing that film differently than the rest of the film. Wadlow uses this to trick the audience into thinking that certain characters have been killed that have not. It also builds to a climax.

Characters

The film does not present the antagonistic characters as downright despicable. They have families and lives. An example of this includes the menacing principal of the school (Anna Deavere Smith) having a son.

Unlike later Wadlow projects, the writing has more of a literary feel to it, with many allusions to Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838). This includes the name of the main female lead, Dodger (Lindy Booth). The film also contains many allusions to the boy who cried wolf, as this was the initial inspiration.

Another big difference comes in casting. Unlike Wadlow’s later productions, the film does not have as well-known of a cast. Perhaps the best-known cast member here is Jared Paledecki, who would go on to become more well-known for starring in Supernatural (2005-2020). The supporting actors playing the adults, such as Gary Cole and Jon Bon Jovi, stand out as the most recognizable people in the movie.

The Protagonist

British exchange student Owen Matthews acts as a liar. Wadlow describes a challenge of this movie as creating a sympathetic protagonist who also constantly lies. He comes to the school with two strikes against him. Throughout the story, the audience sees his father (Gary Cole) when he calls him.

Over the course of the story, the film Owen as a pushover who gets duped. He got kicked out of his previous school for taking the wrap for something he did not do. This becomes a running theme throughout Wadlow’s horror movies.

The Main Love Story

The main love story occurs between Owen and Dodger. Dodger plays up a privileged background, but is really the daughter of the school janitor. Throughout the story, the film visually paints her as a temptress. The filmmakers dress her in red and have her eat an apple like Eve in the Garden of Eden.

When Owen learns that Dodger has been carrying on an inappropriate relationship with teacher Rich Walker (Jon Bon Jovi), he becomes enraged. Throughout the story, he has a contentious student-teacher mentorship with Walker. The film presents him as the closest thing he has to a father figure. His relationship with Dodger challenges all of this.

In the deleted scenes, Dodger makes out with Owen in one scene. He lifts up her skirt to reveal a pair of red underwear. He puts his hand on her thigh. Wadlow said he cut this scene because he felt the suggestion of a relationship would be more powerful than the actual relationship.

The Comedic Couple

In every Jeff Wadlow horror movie, he includes a comedic couple who look different, but act the same. The Comedic Couple appears here more as part of the group. Lewis and Mercedes (Paul James and Sandra McCoy) joke with each other about sex a lot.

Besides acting as comedy relief, Mercedes also provides most of the minimal amount of skimpy clothing and implied nudity in the story. Since each member has to show their chest when playing the game, Mercedes flashes the group. The audience sees her from behind. Similarly, Mercedes takes a picture of herself in underwear and sends it to Lewis. In this sequence, the

The Opening

Each horror film directed by Wadlow begins with a chase scene of sorts. In this case, it begins with prep school student Becky (Erica Yates) running through the woods. She hides, but the killer finds her by calling her phone. Wadlow came up with this sequence because he had lost his phone somewhere in an office himself.

The Ending

In the end, Owen realizes the true scheme behind the whole story. The film really has two endings. In the first, it turns out that all of Owen’s classmates made up the whole killer story and played the role themselves. In the second, it turns out Dodger perpetuated the whole story to kill Rich Walker. Walker had been having another inappropriate relationship with Becky. When Owen realizes that Dodger did it at a police station, Dodger says that nobody will believe him and walks off, leaving Owen to fend for himself.

Response

Of all three films Wadlow has directed, Cry_Wolf has received the highest ratings. However, it received a higher score on audience ratings.

On IMDB, it received a 5.8/10. This comes from 25,000 ratings.

On Rotten Tomatoes, it received 24% good reviews (average rating: 4.18/10) from Critics and 51% audience score (average rating: 3.21/5). Rotten Tomatoes reviews movies on a very binary model (movies either fit into rotten or fresh, no matter how middling the review). This also has the largest audience sample size with over 69,000 ratings.

Similarly, it received a 39/100 for the Critic’s score and 8.6/10 for the audience score on Metacritic.

Wadlow’s Other Work

Between 2005 and 2018, Wadlow worked on many other projects. During this time, he became a producer on many television shows, including Bates Motel (2013-2017) and The Strain (2014-2017). He also directed an episode of Agent X (2015).

In terms of movies, he made three action films: Never Back Down (2008), Kick-Ass 2, and the Netflix action comedy True Memoirs of An International Assassin (2016). When he returned to horror, these choices made their way into the new horror films. Characters in these new horror films literally take bullets for each other. Gun play becomes more prominent. Characters get saved here rather than killed off.

‘Truth or Dare’

After playing a game of truth or dare in Mexico, a group of college students realizes that they are in more danger than they thought when the game follows them home. Now it’s up to Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her friends to stop the game before it kills them all.

Conception of the Project

Known mostly for specializing in Horror, Jason Blum of Blumhouse has had a long and prolific career producing many different types of movies. Over his career, he has produced award darlings like Whiplash (2014), Get Out (2017), and BlacKkKlansman (2018). He also produced critically panned comedies such as Tooth Fairy (2010) and The Babymakers (2012). Besides the movies, he has also produced shows and movies for Hulu and other streaming services.

Blum pitched the title to Wadlow after having the suggestion pitched to him by the marketing department. According to the DVD featurette, Blum also stipulated that it should probably have a PG-13 rating and supernatural elements. On the spot, Wadlow pitched him the opening scene of the movie.

Wadlow then contracted writer Chris Roach and Roach’s wife Jillian Jacobs to write the screenplay with him. Roach had previously written the Liam Neeson thriller Non-Stop (2014) for Wadlow, who served as executive producer.

Throughout the commentary track, Wadlow describes it more as making his version of scenes than trying to make a certain story. A great example of this is Olivia and another character going to visit a much older Van Helsing type character who provides the backstory for the supernatural evil. Wadlow also describes these characters as usually being played by Lin Shaye. According to Wadlow, in the screening for Jason Blum, Blum apparently told Wadlow that this was the best version of that type of scene that he had ever seen.

Characters

Every character in Truth or Dare acts more like a comedy character, complete with one-liners and jokes. In the DVD commentary, Wadlow says that he writes more based on archetype than on casting. To balance this out, he also casts actors that one might not expect in this role. The example of this Wadlow uses it casting Sam Lerner to play frat boy Ronnie, who would often be played by a larger man than the slighter Lerner.

With character choices, Wadlow seems to make them with practical concerns in mind as well as creative reasons. For example, Wadlow tries to include the names of his friends in his movies. In every movie, Wadlow includes a character last name Himoff. This references his friend Adam Himoff, but also serves as an easy shortcut in naming characters because his name always clears with the legal department. When Andrew Howard asked to play the homeless man in Truth or Dare, his agents agreed if they gave the character a name. Wadlow decided to name the character Randall Himoff.

Storytelling

With Truth or Dare, there are three levels of separation in storytelling. The main story has Olivia and her group of friends playing the game. Then there was the group who played the game before them complete with the guy who brings the group in, Carter (Landon Liboiron). Before them, there was a group of nuns that played the game. On top of all this, Olivia and her friends all have backstories that the film needs to take time to explain. Since the story has three layers of separation, the film has to spend lots of time and time explaining these individual moments.

With the main characters, a lot of the dramatic moments and backstory happens offscreen with characters expositing the story to each other. The main storyline where this happens also had these scenes become the sides that the lead actors used to audition by.

Originally, Wadlow had flashbacks to the backstory of the curse, but decided to cut them out because he preferred Lucy Hale’s performance when reading the story. The actress (Ezmie Garcia) who plays both the young version of the character and her granddaughter still gets credited for both parts.

Scope and Challenges

The story takes place primarily in the United States and Mexico. In the DVD commentary, Wadlow and Lucy Hale joke about how easy it is to get in and out of Mexico in the movie.

Since the filmmakers could not create what they wanted to in Mexico, they shot it almost entirely in California. This includes creating a bar and a Spanish monastery. For the bar, they decide to include easily recognizable production design to remind the American audience of Mexican culture. This includes a character wearing a Day of Dead mask and a Sombrero in the background. Such tricks create a recognizable if very stereotypical visual shorthand for a Mexican location.

Another way they masked this was by sending the cast down to Rosarito Beach, Mexico for a night on a bonding trip and filming it all on their phones. Wadlow said this helped make it feel like the cast had gone to Mexico for more than ten minutes.

The Protagonist

A constant do-gooder, Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale) acts like if Lisa Simpson had grown up. The opening scene has Olivia promoting her work for habitat for Humanity. However, during this, she condescends to the hard-partying crowd.

Similar to Owen, the film frames Olivia as a lovable pushover who the audience should relate to. The film constantly goes out of its way to make sure the audience knows that she is liked in the beginning. Characters always say hi to her at school. She asks a random character where her friend Markie (Violett Beane) is. All of these little scenes paint Olivia as popular and likable.

The Female Friendship

The heart of Truth or Dare becomes the friendship between Olivia and Markie, which gets tested throughout. Markie has not quite been the same since her dad died.

In the opening scene, Markie directly betrays Olivia’s trust by telling habitat for humanity that she could not commit because she had shingles (“kind of funny because roofs have shingles”). This betrayal makes the character of Markie less likable to begin with. While Markie does agree to help her with habitat afterwards, it makes her character seem less trustworthy to begin with. Over the course of the story, the game forces Markie to break Olivia’s hand and shoot her in the arm.

However, Olivia must also betray Markie multiple times. Each time Markie storms out of the room. Notably, Olivia must have sex with Markie’s boyfriend Lucas (Tyler Posey). Throughout the story, Markie has been suffering because her father committed suicide. It turns out that Markie’s dad tried to come onto Olivia.

The Main Love Story

The main love story occurs between Olivia, her friend Markie, and Markie’s boyfriend Lucas.

The movie opens with each character in the middle of an unfulfilling relationship. Olivia finds herself attracted to Lucas, but does not want to hurt her friendship with Markie. At the beginning of the story, Markie also has been cheating on Lucas with multiple guys. She also plans to move in with him. With this set up, the audience might expect that Olivia and Lucas will run off together, but this does not happen.

Early on, Lucas admits that he loves Olivia and wonders what it would be like to be to. Later on, the game dares Olivia to sleep with Lucas. Although he sleeps with Olivia and wonders what it would be like to be with her, Lucas has to tell Olivia that he does not really love her. Throughout the story, he flip-flops between Markie and Olivia, without ever committing to either one until the end.

By the end of the story, Lucas gets back together with Markie before he gets killed. Nothing has really changed. The characters have died, but did not grow over the course of the story.

The Comedic Couple

Tyson Curran (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Penelope Amari (Sophia Taylor Ali) play the role of the comedic couple. They constantly flirt and make banter throughout the movie.

Of the two, Tyson probably receives the most character development. A douchebag, he comes from a family of doctors and wants to be one. At the start of the story, he sells fake prescriptions to underclassmen. He even has a pen that labels him as Dr. Tyson Curran. This pen gets focused when they talk about each other. At one point, Penelope says she will stab Tyson in the eye as a joke. This foreshadows Tyson’s death in the film, where he goes for a med school interview and ends up stabbing himself in the eye with the pen. In the DVD commentary, Wadlow says he relates the most to the character of Tyson.

The film sees Penelope mostly as the girlfriend of Tyson. Her name seems to exist so the film can make a joke about how she’s Tyson’s “lucky pen.” The spirit asks her what she is without Tyson. She lives for a little bit longer after Tyson’s death. After the group saves her, she dies taking a bullet for Olivia. Her death comes more from her loyalty to her friend than any specific character need or desire.

The Gay Best Friend

In Wadlow’s two Blumhouse productions, a gay Asian character appears in a supporting role. A gay student, Brad Chang (Hayden Szeto) has not come out to his homophobic cop father (Tom Choi). He serves as a best friend to Olivia who talks to her about her situation with Markie and Lucas. He also asks her if she wants to be his beard. This possibility is presented, but never explored as more than just a comment.

The game challenges him twice. The first time makes him come out to his dad. This happens offscreen. Brad mentions it to Olivia and Lucas afterwards and it gets brushed off with a quick joke about Beyoncé. He dies when the game dares him to steal his father’s gun and make him plead for his life.

The Opening

The film opens with a Woman Giselle Hammond (Aurora Perrineau) walking into a gas station in Mexico to buy cigarettes and setting a woman on fire after a mysterious presence dares her to. The audience does not know this character’s identity for half of the movie.

In the DVD commentary, Wadlow said he saw the film as a chase film and wanted the opening to express that. Because of this, it opens on a shot of a car driving really fast. Wadlow’s director Jacques Jouffret suggested this shot and knew how to work the system to get Wadlow the gear he needed. As a cinematographer, this became the first movie Jouffret shot outside of The Purge cinematic universe.

First Truth or Dare Game

In the first Truth or Dare game scene, there are a few small things that never come back. For example, when asked about who he would like to make out the most, Brad chooses their host Carter. However, Brad never meets Carter again.

The Ending

In the first Truth or Dare game, Olivia says that she would sacrifice herself and others for the good of humanity. The film makes a point that she acts too nice to many people. At the end of the film, Olivia has to decide between her own life and the lives of others. The demon possessing the game assumes that nice Olivia will remain nice. Therefore, she decides to infect the entire world with the Truth or Dare game by putting out a YouTube video. This sets up the sequel. In the end, Olivia turns into a person willing to sacrifice others rather than herself.

Unrated Cut

The Unrated Cut contains more blood and gore than the theatrical cut. This includes the character of Tyson having a pen stuck in his eye. It also contains more sexualized language. However, very little of it changes the story of the movie.

Response

In many ways, Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare received the worst reviews of any of Wadlow’s horror films.

On IMDB, it received 5.2/10. This comes from over 47,000 reviews.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 16% Critics score (3.80/10) and 22% audience score (1.99/10).

Metacritic had a much more middling score. It was 35/100 for Critics and 4.1/10 for the audience. Most audience members rated it as mixed rather than positive or negative.

‘Fantasy Island’

A group of strangers meet on an island to have each of their wishes granted. However, they learn that the island has many dark and deadly secrets of its own.

Conception of the Project

Wadlow actually brought the idea of remaking the Fantasy island TV show to Blumhouse in an off handed manner. Jason Blum liked it and agreed to work with him on the project.

Of the three projects, this one probably feels the most like a television show, complete with a very modest set of credits that do not necessarily announce the tone of the film. Wadlow says at one point in the commentary that it feels like they came from a commercial break and he feels cool with that. He also describes his writing process as writing a season of television.

Selling the Film

Despite coming from a known IP, Fantasy Island did not do as well commercially as Truth or Dare. Since it was a relatively cheap movie to make, it made back four times its budget.

The DVD includes a trailer for another film co-written by Wadlow, Bloodshot (2020). Since Wadlow received credit, he contributed a good chunk of material to the script. That film focuses on a man (Vin Diesel) brought back to life the man who killed his true love. However, he does not know that his overseers have implanted him with a different memory of who killed his wife. Once again, the concept of reality sits at the center of the film.

Characters

The characters in Fantasy Island feel like parodies or exaggerations of the characters in Truth or Dare. Every implicit and subtle trait there becomes more pronounced and explicit here. Also, each character gets an arc of sorts.

The Protagonist

With Fantasy Island, no lead character or central event exists to focus the plot of the movie. Instead, Wadlow focuses on multiple storylines at once and each seems to have equal weight in the movie, leading to a messier film where it becomes more difficult to discern time, space, and motivation. Wadlow and the cast describe it as making four movies at once. This version has six main storylines:

  1. Melanie (Lucy Hale). She has come to get revenge on a childhood bully Sloane (Portia Doubleday). However, the film reveals her as the mastermind behind a plot to kill all the other guests, who she felt took her true love away from her.
  2. Gwen (Maggie Q). She has come to take a chance she did not have before.
  3. Patrick (Austin Stowell). A former cop, Patrick has to come to the island to live out his fantasy of enlisting in the military. Here, he meets his dead father (Mike Vogel).
  4. Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) and J.D. Weaver (Ryan Hansen). Two step-brothers looking to party and live it up together on the island.
  5. Roarke (Michael Pena). The Mysterious provider of fantasies. He provides fantasies, so his dead wife Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley) can stay alive.
  6. Damon (Michael Rooker). Private detective asked to come to the island. Now out to expose Roarke. Damon dies halfway through.

In a Collider interview for the film, Wadlow says that he really likes character based horror. Each character gets revealed with a visual tell or prop. Melanie has a picture of her true love that reflects her face in it. Patrick has dog tags from his father. Mr. Roarke has a ring from his wife. All of these little trinkets hint at the later story.

Scope

For all of its faults, this is an ambitious and complicated film to make, especially on a budget of 7 million dollars. Kim Coates says that this was his first role in a while where he was number 27 on the call sheet.

Wadlow includes many different stories. Each of these stories plays simultaneously and interconnect in various ways. Each story also requires lots of exposition to explain the many events in them. Most of the stories play out in explanations rather than in events and actions.

While the female stories contain a relatively small cast, the male stories contain large group of characters. Patrick’s father has a platoon of small soldiers. Brax and J.D. Weaver have a group of cartel leaders (led by Coates) attack their separate house.

Patrick and the Weaver brothers have their stories intersect. This piece of the storytelling happened because of the budget. Originally the Patrick storyline featured them going to a compound to fight bad guys. Three weeks before filming, Wadlow was told that he had to cut some money out of the budget, so he decided to have Patrick and his father save Brax and J.D. at their home instead.

Challenges

When a movie considered bad or disappointed comes out, critics and people not in the business often paint the filmmakers as lazy and/or apathetic. Wadlow seems anything but. He made this film fairly cheap in Fiji and shot quickly. At 7 Million dollars, the film cost 2 million dollars less than the previous year’s The Curse of La Llorona, which shot in Los Angeles.

Part of the reason he could make it was that the production rented out a cruise ship. He also had to make Fiji double for New York in one sequence, which proved challenging because Fiji has very few apartment buildings with indoor hallways. The filmmakers also had to lobby Fiji in order to get permission to film there in the first place.

The difficulty with characterizing filmmakers that way is the audience often does not know where the work went in, even if the movie does not work.

Connection to Wadlow’s other work

Many of the parts of this movie tie into Wadlow’s other work. The plot with Patrick and his father shares similarities with Wadlow’s Netflix movie True Memoirs of an International Assassin (2016), complete with the father having to go to Venezuela on a secret mission. The actor playing J.D. Weaver, Ryan Hansen, worked with both Wadlow and Lucy Hale on the YouTube series Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television (2017-). Lucy Hale received the job offer for this film on that set.

The Female Friendship

The female friendship in the movie occurs between Melanie and Sloane. Sloane bullied Melanie in school and now Melanie wants revenge, so the island and Mr. Roarke decides to kidnap Sloane. The set-up of the story has Melanie realizing that Sloane is real and not a hologram and having to save the day. Throughout the film, Melanie has to pretend that she was kidnapped along with Sloane.

The opening of the film goes out of its way to frame Melanie and Sloane as unsympathetic characters. In her introduction scenes, Melanie complains about the cell phone service and refuses to offer a drink to somebody. She also approaches Patrick about sex. The film presents her more as troubled at first before revealing her as malevolent. When meeting Sloane, we learn that not only did she bully Melanie, but she also cheated on her husband. Later, she asks Melanie if her kidnappers made her wear that outfit. All of these choices make sure the audience sees these characters as damaged individuals.

Changes to this story

According to Wadlow, this storyline went through more changes than any other storyline.  In the original version, Sloane was going to be a figment of Melanie’s imagination. Michael Rooker’s character of Damon would survive with Melanie instead of dying halfway through.

However, the most significant change came with the ending. In the new version, the film reveals that Melanie wants revenge on the rest of the group for not saving a possible soul mate, Nick (Evan Evagora). Originally, Julia was going to be the bad guy and the mom of the dead character. Wadlow’s collaborators Chris Roach and Jillian Jacobs came up with the idea of having Melanie be the villain. A development executive agreed with their assessment. Wadlow got talked into the idea.

This new ending had consequences and mixed results. Wadlow had to shoot an opening scene in additional photography to connect Melanie to Nick. In the commentary, Wadlow said that he experienced a certain amount of criticism for having a bullied victim as the main bad guy.

Serious Stories

While not having as distinct of a main love story, the film has three stories that it takes seriously or somewhat seriously.

Melanie’s relationship with Nick gets taken somewhat seriously. This storyline provides the structure and climax for the story, but the audience does not see much of it.

In the second, Gwen accepting a marriage proposal she long ago refused. This leads to her having a daughter with this new husband. In her fantasy, she gets to live out something that never happened. However, half way through Gwen decides to change her fantasy.

Finally, Patrick has come to the island to live out his fantasy of enlisting in the military. There, he meets his father. Over the course of the story, he and his father will have to learn how to work together. Wadlow describes this story as taking inspiration from Field of Dreams (1989).

The Comedic Couple

In this film, step-brothers Brax and J.D. Weaver serve as the comedic couple. Like Tyson and Penelope, the characters constantly act like raunchy party animals. They also share the same personality, right down to wearing matching clothes throughout. In the DVD commentary, Wadlow describes the duo wearing matching suits as the outtakes from Twins (1988). He also suggests they should make a streaming show about these characters.

The character of Brax combines the comedy couple and the gay Asian character from Truth or Dare. He literally has the same backstory and does many of the same things as that character. However, this movie ages up this character to about 30.

The Opening

The film opens once again with a character running away, this time through the jungle on the island. Sloane runs away through the jungle from an unknown group of people. She quickly hides under a table. She receives a phone call and tries to call for help, but realizes that the call is from her kidnapper when he says her name. This scene apparently happened a tiny bit later in the script. The original script opened like the television show with Julia the assistant with TV show.

The introductions of the lead characters suggest a different story than what happens. The Weaver brothers get established pretty quickly, but more as comic relief than as major characters who will end the film. It has Patrick helping Gwen out of the plane in a meet cute of sorts. This scene does not come back and these characters really do not have an interaction in the rest of the story.

The Ending

Fantasy Island’s ending sends mixed messages. In his Collider interview, Wadlow says that the film focuses on regret and having to overcome it. Melanie does not overcome regret and it destroys her. Gwen finds herself having to overcome Survivor’s Guilt. Sloane has to forgive herself for how she treated Melanie. Mr. Roarke has to let go of his dead wife.

All of these stories end with characters overcoming a bad past except for Brax. Since J.D. has been killed, Brax agrees to stay on the island so J.D. can live again and go back home. He basically agrees to do what Mr. Roarke did.

Unrated Cut

The Unrated cut of the film lasts 18 seconds longer than the theatrical cut. It includes more blood, mildly harsh language (a use of the word “dick”), and nudity than the original cut (models in the background). However, it does not change the fabric of the movie that much.

Response

Fantasy Island made less money than Truth or Dare, but came in ahead at the box office due to Covid-19. It came in at 19 in the domestic box office, while Truth or Dare came in at 76. Similarly, while Youtube made it possible to rent or buy Cry_Wolf and Truth or Dare on the it platform, Fantasy Island only received a buy option.

On IMDB, it received 4.9/10. This comes from over 33,000 user ratings.

On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 7% critics score (3.40/10) and a 48% audience score (3.08/10). Although it did far better than Truth or Dare on audience score, this became the worst score for Critics of any of Wadlow’s horror movies. The Critics consensus read that it “serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of exhuming long-dead franchises.”

On Metacritic, it received a 22/100 audience score and a 4.6/10 audience score. Although it received mostly negative reviews from the audience, the audience score averaged out at mixed rather than outright bad.

Conclusion

With Wadlow, every project starts out as a clear product. The marketing department can easily sell and market the film to a mass audience. Actors want to appear in them because they get big scenes to express themselves through big monologues. He has proved multiple times that he can bring a film in on time and on budget with minimal reshoots. On top of that, he has amassed a cast and crew that wants to work with him over and over again.

A lot of the time, Wadlow talks about individual moments in movies. He says he writes in beats. Throughout the commentaries, Wadlow discusses movies he loves and how they affect him. He discusses many 80s and 90s movies that inspired him in the various stories he tells. In the Truth or Dare Commentary, he says he tries to base his screenplays off of the Back to The Future script, which works in a very economical fashion. Every line and scene sets up moments in the future. The same commentary features Wadlow saying that often looks to design moments like the “I know” moment in Empire Strikes Back (1980). All the moments become emphasized by Wadlow in the commentary, making his interest in crafting moments and storylines clear.