Nicolas Cage goes for the strong, silent type as he battles devilish animatronics, to mixed effect.
Well. This is certainly a movie that exists. Much like with the Banana Splits movie, it’s a bit baffling to see all these cheesy horror movies inspired by 5 Nights at Freddy’s come pouring out of the woodwork about a decade late. Banking on an expectedly gonzo performance from Nicolas Cage, and billed by the director as “Pale Rider vs. Killer Klowns from Outer Space”, Willy’s Wonderland winds up being not quite bonkers enough.
Willy’s Wonderland (2021)
A quiet drifter is tricked into a janitorial job at the now condemned Willy’s Wonderland. The mundane tasks suddenly become an all-out fight for survival against wave after wave of demonic animatronics. Fists fly, kicks land, titans clash — and only one side will make it out alive.
Speak No Evil.
The choice to have Cage speak zero lines of dialogue both helps and hurts the film. It’s a boon since Cage really leans into the gimmick. His character mostly remains enigmatic and intriguing, despite the silliness all around him. It’s a detriment to the film since I’m sure director Kevin Lewis was banking on having more “crazy Nicolas Cage” energy to drive up views, and being mysterious and quiet actually makes Cage less crazy and more stoic. Overall, it’s a good performance from Cage in a movie that maybe could have used a bug-eyed performance instead.
Rock Em Sock Em Robots.
The other big draw besides Cage potentially eating the scenery with a bib surely must have been the animatronic fights. On this score, the film is again hit and miss. The first couple fights are pretty intense and well choreographed, though you can definitely see where Cage has to fluff a few punches in order to not brutalize the stunt person, who sometimes gets turned around in the giant suits and can’t protect themselves. Once again, kudos to Nick for his professionalism in this very schlocky flick.
The later fights, especially after the rest of the cast (whom I affectionately call “the cannon fodder crew”) shows up are a bit of a let down. They’re mostly slasher movie murders that you could see coming way in advance, and the fodder crew are such one-note horror movie victims there’s no real glee in seeing them get offed. The film also doesn’t pull off kills with much style. The camera work is too shaky and erratic to really get a good, satisfying splat. A few kills and later fights rise to the level of gory, good fun, but the second half of the film really drags.
Needs More Caffeine.
For a movie that sees Cage guzzle enough energy drinks to drop a bull, the film runs out of steam as soon as the cannon fodder crew arrives. I understand that the gimmick of “Nicolas Cage tries to clean up a room, a guy in a gorilla suit jumps him, Cage beats him into his shoes, rinse and repeat” was going to need to change gears at some point, but I think there was more gas in the tank, and the shifting needed a defter touch.
The teens trying to burn down Willy’s Wonderland don’t add much to the film except bodies to bleed, and mouths to yammer exposition. Emily Tosta comes close to having a full-blown character, but the film saddles her with exposition duty at moments that completely derail the momentum. We already get a scene where the sheriff (Beth Grant in an utterly thankless role) explains the Willy’s situation to an out-of-town state cop, so we didn’t need to waste time and character interest by having Tosta do it as well. In the end, the story is needless as “Nicolas Cage beats the tar out of demonic dolls” really does all it needs to to explain the premise.
Willy’s Wonderland isn’t bad so much as underwhelming…which might as well be bad when it comes to movie selling you on pure craziness. It was moderately gory in a movie that should have been a bloodbath. It took breaks when it should have gone full tilt. It featured a respectable performance from its star when we were all hoping for off-the-wall. The director names bunch of films famed for their weirdness and visual identity (Killer Klowns, Beyond the Black Rainbow) but Willy’s is mostly recycled 5 Night’s at Freddy’s with Mandy‘s color scheme.
You won’t walk out of Willy’s hating the experience, but you’ll definitely know you didn’t get what was promised on the tin.