Willy’s Wonderland (2021)
Written by G.O. Parsons
Directed by Kevin Lewis
There was literally no reason for Willy’s Wonderland to be good, and it certainly lived up to that expectation. Somehow, they got Nicolas Cage into this picture, playing himself at ultimate meme form in a premise that is clearly ripping off the popular video game series Five Night’s at Freddy’s. The picture clearly has low effort put into its production aside from maybe the monstrous constructs Cage faces off with. But it is devoid of even charming style or tone that its apparent tryhard effort to be a “so bad it’s good” movie falls short.
A drifter (Nicolas Cage), named The Janitor in the script, ends up stranded in Hayesville, Nevada, a middle of nowhere small town. The local mechanic says the repairs on the Janitor’s car will be a hefty penny, and the city has no ATMs. A deal is made that the man can work the debt off by spending the night cleaning up Willy’s Wonderland, a Showbiz Pizza-style restaurant fallen into disrepair. Tex Macadoo, the owner of the rundown establishment, locks the Janitor inside, which leads to our protagonist becoming the target of the demon-possessed animatronics within. A group of local teens knows all about what happened at Willy’s, and young Liv is determined to stop this cycle of death & destruction. They team-up with the Janitor to take down these mechanical monstrosities.
The most interesting parts of this movie are when Cage is on screen, and he doesn’t have a single line of dialogue for the whole affair. Everyone else, especially the brain dead teens, drag the picture down and will have you bored out of your mind. I never expected this to be the most brilliant horror movie ever made, but please give us something interesting to see on screen or characters we can enjoy being around. The deaths aren’t creative and hurt by a constant shaky camera effect, which I assume is hiding poor special effects. I am all in the Cage as a meme trend for the last few years, but after seeing him in movies like The Color Out of Space and Mandy, he could do so much better than this dull turd of a picture.
Joining Cage and also being wasted is character actress Beth Grant as Sheriff Lund. She’s the supreme authority in town and never gets her due. I like the idea of Lund being worn down by this constant cycle of sacrifice, trying to protect the townspeople from the evil at Willy’s, but she’s not given anything to work with. I think this actress in this role could have done a lot with a weathered, angry cop feeding strangers to a robot animal demons. Or that could just be me.
The greatest sin Willy’s Wonderland does for all its desperate meme-ness is take forty minutes to get down to the action. If you advertise that your movie is an unserious horror joke, don’t take over a third of your runtime building up. I’m sitting down to watch Willy’s Wonderland purely for the stupidness, and I don’t care about the plot. But if you insist on weaving this story, you need to have some exciting elements. As said above, we don’t have charismatic characters, and the tone of the picture is bland and boring.
Even worse is the visual presentation. I feel this director admires Zack Snyder because the color palette here is thoroughly washed out, looking especially like a digital effect done in post. That gives the whole movie a veneer of cheapness but not in the good, homemade way. There’s not enough irony in the story to let the audience in on this poking fun at other movies that take themselves too seriously. I think the filmmakers thought they were making a genuinely badass low budget horror movie. They did not. There is no sense of tension, and I always knew who would die before it happened, especially the two characters that make it out alive. I wanted some dumb fun, but what I got was just dumb.