Willy’s Wonderland review – punch and pop aplenty from Cage, mighty and moody as ever

By Alix Turner
Published: February 12, 2021
Willy’s Wonderland review - punch and pop aplenty from Cage, mighty and moody as ever


Daft plot, fabulous fight scenes, teenagers in peril and plenty of gore. Sure, the film could have been better, but it didn’t exactly need to be: this was thoroughly entertaining.

Picture this: all four tires of your luxury car need replacing, and none of the cash machines are working in this little town miles from anywhere. As “luck” would have it, there’s a run-down kids’ play venue town called Willy’s Wonderland, and the owner is willing to get the repair paid for if you get it all cleaned up so he can reopen the place. That’s how we first meet Nicolas Cage’s man with no name, and this is why he is listed as The Janitor in Willy’s Wonderland‘s closing credits. He has more than just dust and debris to battle that night though, as Willy’s eight animatronic figures come to life and attack like they mean it.

Willy’s Wonderland is as ludicrous and bloody as a plot of that description was bound to be. On the surface, it looks like a variation on Five Nights at Freddy’s, the video game franchise; but very little of it plays out in the dark and it’s more about action (and a far-fetched back story) than jump scares. A little cheesy at times, and generally entertaining, Willy’s Wonderland reminded me more of Chopping Mall than anything else as it went along: pretty young people trapped in a building at night with bloodthirsty robots, gore and screaming ensue. Legendary Mr. Cage to the rescue…

This isn’t the over-the-top Nick Cage who’s graced our screens in recent years (such as in Mom and Dad and Mandy), nor the serious Cage from City of Angels or Joe. Instead, the drifter/janitor he plays here is quiet and moody, loosening up only for himself: Sailor Ripley from Wild at Heart and Michael from Red Rock West could have come together and matured into this man, equally tough and focused. Naturally, his fight scenes are fun (defending himself against a robotic gorilla – half a head taller than himself – with a toilet plunger), though my favorite Cage scene was one of his break time pinball games that included a flamboyant victory dance.

There are other cast, of course. Beth Grant (always Kitty Farmer in Donnie Darko to me) played a marvelously weary sheriff, and Ric Reitz the slimy owner of Willy’s, Tex Macadoo. Then there was a gaggle of teenagers who want to watch the janitor get murdered, led by Liv (Emily Tosta) who wants to help him out.

So Willy’s Wonderland is peopled with some comic-book style characters, exaggerated or emphasized just enough to make them welcome in any action/slasher film, and that’s what this is. It’s got more fight scenes than character development, more plot in the dual backstory than the film itself. It has gore, music, terrific robotic baddies, and a ludicrous conspiracy. Plus Nick Cage and his sunglasses. It’s beautifully done and for many viewers, this will be the perfect escapism.

Director Kevin Lewis may not have made anything great to date, but Willy’s Wonderland shows he’s got something: moving between past and present, cleaning and fighting, teens and adults gives the film a somewhat bouncy pace, and that works. This isn’t a scary or suspenseful horror, but a bizarre action/adventure horror. The film slips a little in two respects, though. Firstly, although there were a few laughs (mostly of the cringey variety), Willy’s Wonderland cried out for more humor. Secondly, the writing could have been a little tighter here and there, especially towards the end. I like to think I can connect the dots when a script expects me to, but writer G.O. Parsons made a couple of those dots pretty faint.

Anyway, despite those flaws, I’m sure Willy’s Wonderland will still be both popular and memorable; largely down to Nick Cage, of course, and some surreal images. I’ll be looking out for a staff t-shirt to wear when film festivals are “real” again.

Signature Entertainment Presents Willy’s Wonderland Home Premiere on Digital Platforms 12 February 2021.

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