Review: Nicolas Cage Faces Off Against Homicidal Animatronics In ‘Willy’s Wonderland’
by Ben Martin
Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider, Kick-Ass) is an actor who’s had a career as exciting and eclectic as the man himself. Even back in his A-list days after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Cage continued to make unique decisions in not only the films he chose to be in but also the performances he delivered within those movies. But the most interesting thing about the guy is that he sees himself as strictly a movie actor. Therefore, Cage has never dabbled in TV despite the prestige that the format has become synonymous with over the years. Sticking to flicks, the actor has proven not to be picky about the movies to which he brings his varied skill set. On the contrary, Cage has displayed a penchant for B-movies more than anything else in recent years.
The latest of these B-movies is, of course, Willy’s Wonderland. In the movie, Cage portrays a nameless drifter who gets stuck in a podunk town after the tires on his Camaro blow out. Like any of us, he intends to pay for a new set of tires with plastic. However, the country mechanic only accepts cash. But, as a solution, the drifter is offered a chance to clean up the defunct local family entertainment eatery, Willy’s Wonderland, overnight. In exchange, his tires will be replaced by the next morning. The drifter accepts, not knowing what violent overnight terrors await him inside in the form of a bunch of homicidal animatronics!
Like me, you might be thinking, “How did the cats who made Willy’s Wonderland not get slapped with a lawsuit by the developers responsible for Five Nights at Freddy’s (2014)?” For those unfamiliar with the horror game, it has essentially this same plot, but Freddy’s never took issue with Willy’s utilizing a very similar idea. Of course, it helps that this flick also features a subplot with local teens attempting to burn down the joint. Thus, it’s not all Cage, all the time. The subplot mentioned above probably not only helped avoid legal concerns; it also helps the film’s pacing, making it more akin to a slasher flick in the process.
Otherwise, we would just have Cage’s character taking care of all the violent businesses inside this low-rent, hellish version of Chuck E. Cheese. While that’s not a bad thing, it wouldn’t be enough to carry an entire feature. Furthermore, it would be indeed like watching a video game play out. Thankfully, though, the two scant plots enhance one another. In addition to these converging storylines, we’re provided with an actual dark origin for the current state of Willy’s Wonderland. It is an element I was pleasantly surprised by, frankly, as I didn’t figure the writer and filmmakers would be concerned with providing it.
Better than the simplistically fun story, though, is the atmosphere of this flick; one that cashes in on the fact that we all know how weird entertainment eateries like Willy’s Wonderland are in retrospect. Sure, these places are great when you’re a kid, but such attractions are merely sources of headache-inducing weirdness as an adult. Add to that a setting in which such an establishment is defunct and dirty, you get a whole new level of creepiness. The filmmakers have brought this very uncomfortable environment to life. So much so that after every extended period of time spent in Willy’s, I felt like I needed a shower … and a tetanus shot.
On paper, Willy’s Wonderland should be nothing but low-budget entertainment made with a minimal effort. On the contrary, though, this B-grade entertainment executed at an A-grade level. The whole cast and crew bring their top skills to the movie in review. And, as far as Cage goes, he gives an entertaining and purely physical performance. Thanks to its premise and quality, Willy’s Wonderland is destined to become a cult classic that many folks will rewatch endlessly. For me, though, it is a fun one-timer, which I have to recommend to fans of B-movies or Cage, which often go hand-in-hand.
Willy’s Wonderland is now available on Digital HD, Blu-Ray, & DVD!