Willy’s Wonderland (2021), Nicolas Cage – (Horror Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 12, 2022

PLOT: An awkwardly silent man becomes stuck in a small podunk town due to some car trouble. To make up the mechanic’s cost, he’s talked into working an overnight shift at a poor man’s Chuck E. Cheese. The only problem is that the animatronic animals have a taste for human blood.

LOWDOWN: I grew up during peak Cage. As a kid, I got to see his ’80s flicks on VHS during my daily visit to Family Video and got to see classics like The Rock and Con Air in theaters as parenting wasn’t so cautious in the early 90s as it is now.  Either way, Nicolas Cage is my guy, and I try and support him whenever I can. Now, with some well known “troubles,” he has had to make a lot of movies in the latter part of his career. This has caused his films’ quality to range from excellent to sh*t so frequently that it can happen multiple times a year. So where does Willy’s Wonderland (WATCH IT HERE) sit on the sliding scale of quality? I’d have a drink handy because this outing can get pretty rough. Some mild spoilers ahead, so don’t continue if you want to go into this completely blind.

Cage plays a no-named man (credited as “The Janitor”) who gets stranded in some hick town after a spike belt incapacitates his vehicle. Of course, the mechanic only takes cash, there isn’t a working ATM, and the town hasn’t gotten internet yet, and so and the tradeoff is made. Nicolas Cage’s character must do one overnight cleaning at the local poor man’s Chuck E. Cheese. Within the first couple of hours, it becomes apparent that he’s there for a more sinister purpose as the animatronics come to life with the sole purpose of taking away janitors through cold-blooded murder. In theory, Willy’s Wonderland should be a midnight cult classic. It has every ingredient you’d want to make a weird, gory, and over-the-top good time but somewhat impressively fails at every opportunity to make you laugh or cheer.

Let us dig into what works. Nicolas Cage going fully unhinged against the possessed animatronics is as fantastic and bizarre as you were hoping, and as the silent type, he goes all-in with the embellished expressions as opposed to his usual vocal gymnastics. This is his movie and HIS alone.Yea, that’s about it. Let me be clear; he isn’t the silent type like Eastwood was in Sergio Leone’s trilogy but more like an actual mute (though they don’t specify). Cage is listed as a producer, and I assume he wanted to experiment here, but not saying a single word comes off as an odd character choice that fails to evoke any sort of toughness.

Willy’s Wonderland is definitely tongue-in-cheek, which most will use to forgive its shortcomings, but things get lazy and repetitive quite quickly. If it weren’t for Cage having the presence of a modern god, I’d assume people would likely call bullsh*t on this entire experience. Maybe I’m missing something, but how a concept that sounded like such a fun time end up grating and Valley Girl annoying? Not the movie but actual Valley girls. Cage’s character is a badass, and though it’s cool to see a man dedicated to his work, he dispatches the first animatronic, so quickly I wondered if there was going to be a Game Of Death leveling up from the enemies (it doesn’t). This blew its load a bit too quickly, and even if this is meant to be fun, I’d hope to see something for him to overcome, but, alas, I did not. Who would have thought boring would be one of my descriptions of Willy’s Wonderland? Weird times, my friends.

If this had only focused on the janitor’s epic battle, then I would have at least had some fun even if the threat was never present. Still, the biggest sin here is the addition of a group of teens so poorly executed I thought my screener accidentally jumped to another movie. Maybe in concept, this sounded like a good idea, I mean, we do need a bigger body count, but man, was this a misstep. It was not only foolish in terms of pacing but also dragging Willy’s Wonderland into a CW level of acting and production. It felt like a parody of teens instead of actual characters in this type of story. I’m all good with a level of embellishment as Willy’s Wonderland aims for a certain kind of camp, but you must try first, and then your failings will bring it a sense of heart and charm. This comes across as purposely bad, which is never a good sign.

GORE: The gore is used somewhat sparingly, but it does get to an Evil Dead level near the end.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m not sure what I was expecting from Willy’s Wonderland. It seems like everyone else loves it, and maybe with a few tweaks, It could be my cup of tea, but I felt like this tried way too hard to be cult instead of just being itself. I wanted to love this as full-throttle-genre Cage is my thing, but Willy’s Wonderland just ain’t it. The acting was at best clunky and at worst cringy, while the main draw (an evil Chuck E. Cheese) didn’t go far enough. Willy’s Wonderland wastes a great concept with a great actor and tries to be something it ultimately misses the mark on. Though this isn’t my bag, it may be yours. Check out the link above and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Willy’s Wonderland Premiers On Digital and in Theaters on February 12th, 2021

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About the Author

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Lance Vlcek was raised in the aisles of Family Video in the south suburbs of Chicago. He's a fan of fun schlock like Friday The 13th Part 7 and Full Moon Entertainment but also loves genre classics like Evil Dead and Big Trouble In Little China. Lance does many things outside of genre consumption, with his favorites being his homemade Chicago pizza recipe, homemade rum, and video editing. He has four Sugar Gliders, a love for beach bars, and claims Brett Morgen's favorite Bowie album must be Changesonebowie based on his soulless documentary!