Let’s get it out of the way immediately. This movie is similar to Five Nights At Freddy’s. Guess what? The rights to that game sit with Blumhouse and the script is in development hell. So Willy’s Wonderland is here to give you that demonic animatronic fix. For all the people out there calling this a shameful knockoff of that story, they could have thought of this plot, it’s incredibly simple. Simple in the best ways though. Plus, it has Nicolas Cage.
Willy’s Wonderland is not going to reinvent the horror genre. It’s not going to make you think about the excellence of cinema as an artform. It’s surely not going to win any Oscars. But what it does incredibly well, is give you an hour and a half to just forget. COVID-19 got you down? Willy’s Wonderland is there. It’s snowing in Texas, but you still have power? Willy’s Wonderland is there. Lonely because you miss your friends and family and the crippling depression is right around the corner? Let Nicolas Cage and Willy’s Wonderland in your home.
For a film that has a pretty good amount of faults, they melt away by the time you reach the end. I was trying to find something about this movie that would make me give it a bad review. There are glaring issues, but at the end of the day, you’re watching Nic Cage beat the ever-loving shit out of animatronic animals. If you’re a cynical person, why did you even put this movie on? Let’s dig in with the details.
The Plot Is Thin, Simple, And It Just Works
Let’s play a game. Have you seen From Dusk ‘Till Dawn? How about Escape From New York? Last one. How about Evil Dead II? Because Willy’s Wonderland borrows from all of those films. It borrows a lot. The plot is as thin as they come. With a movie like this, a big grandiose plot detailing the exact origins of the demonic animatronic animals would get in the way. It just would. So all you really need is: Nic Cage blows his tires out, shitty mechanic ropes him in with the evil businessman that owns the dilapidated Willy’s Wonderland, Nic Cage has to pay off his car debt by staying overnight and cleaning the place. That’s it.
If the screenwriter knew they were getting Nicolas Cage for this one, you could have made the logline even shorter.
Nicolas Cage fights animatronic animals in shitty Chuck E Cheese knockoff.
If you want to tell your friends about this movie, you’re free to steal that one.
Concerns about the plot melt away when you realize that Nic Cage’s “The Janitor” (that’s his name in the credits) is taking the evil businessman, Tex Macado’s suggestion of “making sure to take a break every once in awhile” literally. Cage sets his watch, plays pinball, and drinks what I can only assume is a combo of Mountain Dew, Liquid Cocaine, and other ingredients that I want. It offers the comedy that lightens up what ends up being a slightly darker tale.
If the screenwriter G.O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis wanted to go deeper down the path of how this small town has been terrorized by this hellhole of bright purple colors and birthday songs, they could have. Luckily, they didn’t. That would get in the way of the true main event.
But we’ll get to the rest of the cast first.
The Teenagers Are Entirely Forgettable
Okay, I lied with that heading a bit. Most of the teenagers are forgettable. They’re here to die. That’s not a spoiler saying “the teenagers trying to bang in a horror movie, die”. But the film glosses over their ambitions. Besides trying to bang. It glosses over their names (I had to look at IMDB to find their characters names). The only one who has motivation to save our main heroine, Liv (played by Emily Tosta) is Chris (played by Kai Kadlec). Sorry Chris, but your story of saving Liv is probably fiftieth on the list of things I want to see in this movie.
Thankfully, that subplot is dropped when all the teenagers are systematically killed off. The scenes of death and destruction are pretty gruesome and have great gore. Thank the sweet lord that they didn’t use CG for the blood and gore effects in this movie. If you’re going to jam people in animal costumes, get some real (fake) blood on set.
Sherriff Lund (played by Beth Grant) and Deputy Evan (played by David Sheftell) are there to retell what Willy’s Wonderland means for the small town. It’s a plot like I was describing before, but thankfully it’s short. The town gives Willy’s Wonderland sacrifices, so they don’t kill the townsfolk. Simple. Easy. Nicolas Cage just happens to be one of those sacrifices. Their characters sort of keep the plot going, but they’re more played off to be willfully dumb. Lund is the one that plays a semi-antagonist to Liv and The Janitor.
This Is A Beautifully Colorful And Shot Film
I’m gonna keep you waiting on Nicolas Cage’s performance. This film might go under the radar as a silly, or “bad” movie. It really shouldn’t get lumped into that category though. Check that screenshot above. That’s a masterfully shot, lit, blocked, and framed scene. That belongs in the Academy. The rest of the film has bright vivid colors, and for being a lower budget horror film, has really good creature effects. Like shockingly good. Throughout, I didn’t find any place where the monsters looked outrageously fake. The fight scenes are well choreographed and they work. It’s a Janitor beating the shit out of monsters with brooms, kitchen wares, and other household objects.
What more do you want?
Also in this category is the script. Which isn’t Casablanca by any standard, but it’s not embarrassing. It does the job, doesn’t get in the way, and the animatronics in particular, have great lines. Films like this like to trip over themselves and add unnecessary, flowery, over the top elements. This one doesn’t do that. It knows exactly what it is.
So finally ladies and gentlemen, we get to the main event.
What you’re all waiting for.
If you look up this film on Google, the only images that come up, are of him.
And for good reason.
It’s the one and only.
The Price Of Admission, The Main Event, Any Other Hyperbolic Headline
My original headline for the trailer for this film was: Nicolas Cage Fights Demonic Animatronic Animals In Willy’s Wonderland, Need I Say More?. That very easily could have been the headline for this review. When the filmmakers set out to make this movie, they did so, with the intention of making all the events surround Nicolas Cage. If the film didn’t do that, if he got relegated to the sidelines and wasn’t the main attraction, this movie would be awful. Nicolas Cage brings everything together.
Now I’m not one of those people that just praises everything he does, even the crap. Some of the movies he’s done are irredeemable. The ones that are redeemable for their faults are the ones that have charm and that extra bit to them. SPOILER ALERT.
Nicolas Cage doesn’t speak once in this movie. No end of movie quip, no badass lines about killing animatronics. Nothing. He dances in front of a pinball machine, he drinks copious amounts of energy drinks, but no words. It’s part of the draw of the film, because you’re waiting the entire time for him to say something, anything, and he doesn’t. This not only adds to the performance by Cage, it makes it one of his best. Think about all the films that people love with Nicolas Cage, there’s something extra to them.
It’s not just him fumbling, bumbling, and hamming his way to the end of the movie. Sure, you’re watching to see him fight animatronic animals, but you stay for the performance. It’s not a nuanced performance that the Academy is going to reward. But the audience is going to reward it. He’s great in this movie, and it’s not common these days for one actor/actress to hold up an entire movie for the length of it. He is the movie.
Get The Stick Out Of Your Ass, And Watch This Film
What were your expectations of a movie called Willy’s Wonderland? Were you expecting it to reinvent the horror genre and set forth a new age of demonic animatronic ripoff films? Were you expecting an Oscar winning performance from Nicolas Cage? If you go into any movie like this with expectations like that: 1. I feel bad for you, 2. horror isn’t your genre. Unless something is absolutely abhorrent and absolutely lacking in fun like certain films I’ve reviewed for this site, you can look past faults and find the fun.
At it’s heart, Willy’s Wonderland is an incredibly fun film. It knows what it is, it spends the entire movie knowing what it is, and it works. It just simply works. There are some faults, definitely. But you can easily look past those and get to the heart of a film that defines what film should be. It can be art. It can make us feel. Sometimes, you need to throw those two out, and just make the audience have fun.
Which is what it, and Nicolas Cage do.
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