Nicolas Cage really is having a wild resurgence as of late. The actor is fully embracing the more weird and wacky roles and is clearly having a blast with them, particularly in Mandy and Colour Out of Space. His latest projects, festival hit Prisoners of the Ghostland and Willy’s Wonderland, continue in this thrillingly amusing vein. Reminiscent of indie video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s, Willy’s Wonderland once again features a central character who’s battle to survive one night leads to a violent but hugely entertaining affair.
Directed by Kevin Lewis, Willy’s Wonderland centres on a lone traveler (Nicolas Cage) who becomes stranded in a remote town due to his car mysteriously breaking down. With no way of paying for the repairs, he agrees to help clean and restore the rundown kids entertainment establishment overnight. But there’s more than meets the eye to the abandoned facility, which is filled with creepy animatronic characters who, as night falls, awaken looking for their next victim.
Yes Willy’s Wonderland doesn’t really bring anything new to the ‘survive the night’ horror sub genre, with a somewhat predictable rinse and repeat formula. But Lewis has a hell of a lot of fun with it, as Cage’s pinball wizard serves the furry fuzzies a number of ridiculous bloody beatdowns. The ‘mysterious quiet town in the middle of nowhere guarding a shocking secret’ is always an intriguing set up, and Lewis does add a fittingly crazy backstory to the animatronic creatures and the entertainment centre. In the midst of awards season and the subsequent heavy going dramas, it’s refreshing to see a director so gleefully embracing the ridiculousness, fully playing into the typical horror tropes for an entertaining and amusing 90-minute ride. There’s also a number of brilliant clangers in the script, such as “he’s not trapped in here with them, they’re trapped in here with him” for added effect.
Cage completely owns the role with a committed performance as the soft drunk “Punch” chugging Janitor. He brings his usual signature intensity and energy in the amusing fight sequences, along with a hell of a lot of swagger to the lone drifter. However the main issue is the fact that he’s a lot more intriguing than the actual creepy animatronics. There’s a number of unanswered questions left hanging over the character’s backstory, such as why is he so laid back about it all? Beth Grant’s pleading sheriff and Emily Tosta’s strong female lead are the standouts from the ensemble cast, as the Scooby Doo-esque pesky kids easily fall into genre stereotypes. Shoutout to the performers in the costumes too, who do a wonderful job of bringing the various mascots to life in a number of weird and wonderful movements.
Once the janitor gets into his cleaning shift, the film really kicks into gear. The night is packed full of cat and mouse chases, with plenty of gore and blood splatter thrown into the mix. Like Mandy, Cage isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the role. Following the many hilarious showdowns with the creepy animatronics, usually involving inventive weapons (mop anybody?), the actor is often left covered in oil splatter and fur – leading to a running joke revolving around t-shirt changes. Considering the production budget has primarily been spent on the impressively eerie costumes, Lewis uses a number of inventive camera shots, snappy editing, the creepy ‘empty’ surroundings and plenty of jump scares to impressively immerse us in the action. There’s also a fun 80s-esque neon aesthetic to events with the bold and colourful lighting and intense pinball shots. Émoi’s score, particularly the creepy “It’s Your Birthday” song, also adds an air of atmosphere to proceedings.
Willy’s Wonderland is a B-movie at it’s best, with a bloody brilliant central thrill ride steered by a bonkers Cage. This will undoubtedly become an amusing cult classic, it’s just a shame there’s so many questions left unanswered once the credits roll.