A healthy dose of inspiration is important to artforms of all types. The problem comes when your inspirations take over to the point of failing to establish your own piece. This, unfortunately, is the case for Willy’s Wonderland.
Starring Nicolas Cage, because of course it is, Willy’s Wonderland is a play on the currently popular trope of children’s animatronic characters actually being evil robotic killers. This movie steps it up a notch, also including a satanic suicide ritual and the citizens of the town making a gruesome pact with the resident robots.
Directed by Kevin Lewis, the movie draws clear inspiration from other films like Evil Dead II and The Cabin in the Woods, as well as the extremely popular video game franchise Five Nights at Freddy’s. Cage plays “The Janitor,” a drifter who has the tires on his car popped by a strategically placed spike trap. After being towed to the mechanic’s shop in Hayesville, he is told it will cost $1000 cash, and no ATMs work in town. But he can work it off by cleaning up Willy’s Wonderland, an old children’s entertainment centre that has fallen into disrepair.
We also follow Liv (Emily Tosta) and friends, a group of teenagers who are aware of the evil that lurks within Willy’s and plan on burning it to the ground. The plan goes awry when they see the Janitor inside, and Liv insists on getting him out before they light the building on fire.
While this movie might not be the most original, it is still quite entertaining. Cage brings his usual manic energy to the roll, with one distinct difference: he does not say a single word throughout the runtime of the movie, only occasionally grunting or sighing. Why is this? Who knows, it could just be that he had a sore throat while they were filming. But it makes for an interesting premise.
The creature design is highly impressive as well, finding a good balance between creepy and believable, much along the lines of what you might see in a Showbiz Pizza back in the day. And not only are the animatronics well designed, but the songs they sing also work well with the tone of the film. American composer Émoi was able to strike a good balance between the sound of traditional children’s songs and downright creepy horror soundtracks.
Now this is a horror-comedy, a genre that seems to have more and more entries every year. But this is one of the ways that Willy’s Wonderland does stand out from its contemporaries: it plays the ridiculous concept it presents almost entirely straight. The absurdity of the situation provides humour to the scenes, but the characters within the scene react as if what they are seeing is truly the most terrifying thing they have ever seen. The exception of course, is Nicolas Cage. His character has an odd quirk where whenever his watch alarm goes off, he drinks soda and plays pinball until it goes off again. This is not explained, and in all honesty his character is the only part of the movie that does not seem to fit within the world, but it is also the most entertaining part of the movie.
There is a lot of good in Willy’s Wonderland, the problem is that a lot of it has already been done better in other pieces. If you have an hour and a half and nothing to do, there are worse ways to spend it. Unfortunately, there are probably better ways to spend it too.