Synopsis – A quiet drifter is tricked into a janitorial job at the now condemned Wally’s Wonderland. The mundane tasks suddenly become an all-out fight for survival against wave after wave of demonic animatronics. Fists fly, kicks land, titans clash — and only one side will make it out alive.
My Take – Though, Nicolas Cage no longer has what one would call a flourishing career with his voice work in the Oscar winning animated film Spider–Man: Into the Spider–Verse (2018) being the only highlighted feather in a filmography that mainly now contains horror and action films with flimsy premises made with shoestring budgets that come and go without commanding one iota of attention.
Nevertheless, to give him his due, the 57 year old actor continues to show no signs of slowing down.
However, this film which was announced back in 2019, as a feature version of screenwriter G.O. Parsons‘s 2016 short film Wally’s Wonderland, began to make waves, even before release, for its insane premise which resembled Five Nights at Freddy’s, an indie video game series, which allowed co-producer and star to Cage to dial himself up to eleven by brutally and very violently smash his way through murderous animatronics for 88 minutes that too without uttering a single actual word.
As advertised, this campy and bloody creature feature, in vein with Evil Dead 2, is one of those movies that delivers precisely on what it promises. Directed by Kevin Lewis, the film is no more profound than its premise, nor does it search for any meaning to the madness, as it only wishes to offer a wholly absurd fun time, that uses it’s insane setting, style, and characters to offer up one of the more enjoyable completely off-the-wall B films you will see this year.
Sure, it has troupes galore, it keeps itself from going completely over the top campy, is kind of hazy in the serious department, but is saved by Nicolas Cage, who sold every scene, and stole most of them. Making it the perfect monster movie spectacle to ease one until Godzilla vs. Kong comes out.
The story follows an unnamed quiet drifter (Nicolas Cage), who after suffering a flat tire finds himself stranded in the remote town of Hayesville, Nevada. Though the tow truck driver/ mechanic named Jed Love (Chris Warner) agrees to fix his car, for cash the drifter does not possess, he offers him a solution by introducing him to Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz), the owner of Willy’s Wonderland. Who agrees to pay for his car, in exchange for working as a janitor for a night in the now closed but once-successful abandoned family entertainment center. To which he agrees.
With the place a mess, and locked in overnight, as the janitor, he immediately gets to work, however, the seemingly simple assignment soon proves too good to be true when the animatronics left behind begin to spring to life with a hunger for human flesh. With hours to kill and no easy escape, the stranger has no choice other than to fight and clean until morning comes.
Meanwhile, a group of teenagers, led by Liv (Emily Tosta), plot to save the new janitor and burn the abandoned building turn to ash, despite the disapproval of her care taker Sheriff Eloise Lund (Beth Grant). Things don’t go as planned, of course, but they never do in a movie with murderous killer robots.
But this being the B-movie throwback it is, things do not rest there, managing to deliver teen sex, a dark backstory about serial killers, and a town of characters filled with personalities. Though at its core the film might seem like an excuse to show off Nicolas Cage fighting evil robot mascots, yet it makes for a blend of the best tropes we know in the genre, with just the right amount of humor to never take itself too seriously.
From the interludes of the janitor taking breaks to drink energy drinks and play pinball, to changing his shirt for the 5th time because he’s covered in oil again to the absurd ways that different characters meet their end. This is a film that takes what could have been a simple and throws all normalcy out the window, as it embraces the absurd. The whole film is right on that edge of camp and parody, without necessarily being played for laughs like a comedy.
Something on the lines of Evil Dead 2, a tribute to the genres without mockery. Sure, at times the pace drags and plot threads fall by the wayside for extended periods. But for all the obvious faults, it’s also raucous and unhinged, which is enough to carry it through. After all, this is a film where Nicolas Cage uses a plunger to fight a dude in a gorilla suit before curb-stomping it to death in a bathroom.
Director Lewis also has a fine time playing up the eeriness inherent in these throwbacks like the twitchy, unnatural movement of the monsters coupled with the tinny canned songs about birthdays that create an aesthetic that’s both innocuous and sinister at the same time.
Mainly as animatronics, despite the obvious shoestring budget, manage to bring a sense of menace to the proceedings. They not only stand out in appearance from each other, but differ in their personality and attacks too. Though the cinematography and quick cuts used during the fight scenes does make the action difficult to follow at times, making these scenes confusing.
It’s also refreshing to see a film where the main character doesn’t care about the exposition he’s being given later on in the film. All he sees is the end goal once this strange night is over. And, by the end of the film, the unnamed drifter aka the janitor doesn’t grow as a character, nor do we get any idea about his background. While this would usually be an aspect that should encourage criticism, it works here.
A factor which wouldn’t have been possible without Nicolas Cage‘s captivating performance. Yes, the absence of dialogue can make for a challenging task as all the actors’ expression has to come from their facial expressions; they have to be more expressive than they normally would be. But what better actor to choose than Cage? Casting him was a genius idea and he immediately dives into the role of the calm but crazy robot killer.
As the co-lead, Emily Tosta too does well and brings ample balance to campy proceedings on screen. In other roles, Jonathan Mercedes, Kai Kadlec, Caylee Cowan, Terayle Hill, Christian Del Grosso, Ric Reitz, Chris Warner and Beth Grant are also wonderfully over the top. On the whole, ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ is a wild and campy horror action flick that offers B-movie thrills in galore.
Directed – Kevin Lewis
Rated – R
Run Time – 88 minutes