Willy’s Wonderland from director Kevin Lewis and writer G.O. Parsons is 90 minutes of light domestic cleaning punctuated by moments of extreme violence. While not quite as good as it could have been, it’s a great little movie and a lovely reminder that Nicolas Cage can really act when he puts his mind to it.
Cage plays a character known only as “The Janitor” and he doesn’t have a single speaking line in the entire film. There’s some grunts, some groans, but that’s it. As tow-truck driver Jed (Chris Warner) says, “he don’t talk much”. After an incident with a spike strip and a broken ATM, he finds himself stranded in the backwater burgh of Hayesville, unable to pay to have the tyres on his car replaced. An offer is made for him to work off the debt instead.
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All he has to do is spend the night cleaning up Willy’s Wonderland, a themed restaurant along the lines of Chuck E Cheese and the like. If he cleans the place up ready for its re-opening, the owner of Willy’s, Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz) will cover the cost of repairing his car. He accepts and his night begins.
It swiftly becomes clear that there’s a reason Willy’s closed down. A reason people have spray-painted “kid killers” and “gateway to hell” on the walls. Willy and the other animatronic creations (Siren Sara, Cammy the Chameleon, Tito the Turtle, Arty the Alligator, Knighty Knight, Gus the Gorilla and Ozzie the Ostrich) have a thirst for human flesh and he’s the latest in a long line of victims to be offered up as a sacrifice. But is he trapped in there with them, or are they trapped in there with him?
It’s difficult to comment on this film without noting the obvious similarities between it and the game Five Nights at Freddy’s, which is a game about the player surviving the night in a run down restaurant filled with murderous animatronics. It could be argued that this isn’t the first cinematic property to lean into that concept, with the recently released Banana Splits Movie also drawing some obvious comparisons to the game.
Nicolas Cage is great fun to watch in this as he goes all American History X on the murderous animatronics. Some scenes, in fact, are so brutal that you almost want to go “Okay Nic, show me on the doll where the Muppet touched you”. He goes full on Mandy on them and it’s both a delight to watch and somewhat disturbing at the same time. The rest of the cast are pretty decent, even if most of them are really just there to be murdered in a variety of creative and increasingly gory ways. Ric Reitz as Tex Macadoo is just a delight to watch, filled with good ole’ boy southern charm. It’s also got Beth Grant in it as Sheriff Lund and she’s great as a woman who honestly believes that what she’s doing is the lesser of two evils.
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So that’s all the good stuff. That, and the fact I will never again be able to listen to the song ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ again without thinking about this movie. What about the things it doesn’t do quite so well? My biggest complaint, sadly, is with the fight scenes, which are slightly marred by the somewhat egregious use of VFX in these scenes. There’s unnecessary lens flares, motion blur and what appear to be fake impact marks on walls when people are thrown against them which is just… weird. I can only assume that this is down to budgetary restraints but are the VFX really cheaper than building a fake wall you can toss people against? At least the blood seems to be real, no overly vivid CGI blood splatters here. Huzzah!
There’s talks of a sequel in the works following the success of this film and I, for one, would love to see Nicolas Cage dealing out some righteous beatdowns to evil robotic mascots for a second time.