New to rent this weekend is the action-horror movie, Willy’s Wonderland. The movie, which is currently available to rent from all major platforms (Amazon, iTunes etc), sees Nicolas Cage battle a group of animatronic children’s characters, with homicidal tendencies.
In the movie, Cage plays a drifter who experiences car trouble while passing through a small town in the US. His car needs some work done, but he doesn’t have any cash on hand to pay for the repairs.
To offset the cost of the work, the drifter agrees to a take a job as a janitor at a nearby dilapidated restaurant, called Willy’s Wonderland (think Chuck E Cheese meets Wacky Warehouse). All the drifter has to do is spend one night cleaning up the establishment, and he’ll cover any costs related to his car.
But what the drifter doesn’t know is the restaurant is inhabited by malevolent animatronic characters. And if he has any hope of surviving the night, he’ll need to mop the floor with every last one of them.
Willy’s Wonderland was due in cinemas last year, just in time for Halloween, but as with many, many movies of 2020, COVID scuppered its debut. It has now slipped onto streaming instead, which may prove to be the best outlet for it, as I can’t imagine this would have performed well on the big screen.
Willy’s Wonderland is not a good movie. It’s not awful; I have watched far worse, but this one is somewhat of a misfire.
My first thought when watching Willy’s Wonderland, was confusion. Throughout this entire picture, Nicolas Cage doesn’t utter a single word.
He musters up a grunt early on in the movie, but that’s the closest he comes to expressing anything that might count as dialogue. Other characters speak, this isn’t a silent movie, but rather bizarrely he doesn’t, and I don’t really know why.
This non-verbal performance may have been decided during the scripting stage, with the drifter conceived as a silent figure. Of course, it may have been a choice made by Cage, or director Kevin Lewis, once the actor was attached. Either way, it’s odd – although not the strangest thing in the film. This is reserved for Cage’s role as a janitor.
I’ve watched numerous Nicolas Cage pictures in the past, where I have seen him play a convict (Con Air), a stunt motorcyclist (Ghost Rider), a paramedic (Bringing Out the Dead), and the love interest of Cher (Moonstruck), and for the most part I’ve gone along with it; but I found it difficult to believe Cage as a janitor. He spends the majority of the movie cleaning up the restaurant, and while I should have been focusing more the horror that was unfolding, all I could think was: ‘I pity the poor person who is really doing all this cleaning in the close-up shots’.
If that’s something I’m focused on when watching the movie, that tells you that I’m not all that invested in what’s on screen. And I wasn’t – I was largely bored.
Willy’s Wonderland is a 90 minute movie, that is 60 minutes too long. Its central premise runs out of steam early doors, and this results in lots of padding, usually involving scenes of Cage drinking energy drinks or playing pinball.
I get the feeling these scenes, as well as the idea of Cage being speechless, is all to make this film quirky and humorous. It doesn’t work.
Willy’s Wonderland is also not scary, despite its insistence that audiences should be afraid of creepy kids’ characters. And maybe this would be true if this concept hadn’t already been showcased countless times before.
If you’re a computer game fan, then the obvious comparison would be Five Nights at Freddy’s. For film fans it’s The Banana Splits Movie.
But even going into television, the theme of the evil children’s characters has played out in shows such as Channel Zero: Candle Cove, The X-Files (‘Familiar’) and Angel (‘Smile Time’) amongst others. OK, so the approach is different, but the point is there are shades of this idea in other properties so the novelty is wearing a little thin.
If this is the hook for your movie, then at least make it a bit more interesting. Throw in something original and imaginative to make it work – not multiple instances of Nicolas scrubbing walls while slugging back cans.
I want to tell you I found some enjoyment in Willy’s Wonderland, and to be honest, I did, courtesy of the movie’s soundtrack. The score – composed by Émoi – is a true delight and the real highlight of the picture.
The score is steeped in ‘80s goodness, with hints of John Carpenter here and there. I can’t see me rushing out to watch this film again, but I will certainly listen to the soundtrack in the near future.
Willy’s Wonderland feels like it is aiming to be a throwback to ‘80s horror – the sort of stuff often reserved for the shelves of a video store. I’m convinced that Émoi understood this, and captured the heart of this concept through the music, it’s just a shame that no one else got the memo.
Ultimately, Willy’s Wonderland is a disappointment. I can see what was being attempted and I feel as if it really could have worked, but the final product falls flat.
A tighter focus on the story, a few well-placed quips from Cage, and the confidence to go bigger, would have made a huge difference. Plus, a little less cleaning.
I’ve no doubt that due to the nature of the movie, plus the inclusion of a mute Nicolas Cage, Willy’s Wonderlandwill develop a cult following in time, but it did next to nothing for me. Not awful, but not what it had the potential to be.