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Could this be Nicolas Cage’s best role in years? I certainly think so. When I saw the trailer for Willy’s Wonderland I knew this was going to be awesome. B-grade awesome. But awesome nonetheless. The idea of seeing Nicolas Cage – who speaks no lines of dialogue – play a man who is tricked into being a janitor for one night at Willy’s Wonderland where he must fight possessed animatronics in order to get his car fixed is too perfect a setup to miss out on. And I was not disappointed.
For those who are familiar with the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise, the premise is similar to the video game series most famous for jump scare teddy bears but isn’t associated with it. Seems like a missed opportunity, but oh well.
An energy drink loving drifter (Nicolas Cage) ends up broken down in Hayesville, Nevada after his car drives over a spike strip. Unable to pay his towing bill and the costs of four replacement tires with plastic – sorry cash only – he is forced to take a job at Willy’s Wonderland. The job is simple: all he has to do is spend one night cleaning the abandoned building so Tex (Ric Reitz), the owner, can re-open the place. In return for being the janitor for one night, Ted will pay to have the car fixed.
But things are not as they seem. The Janitor soon learns there’s a reason why Willy’s Wonderland is closed – it’s full of evil, murderous, animatronic characters and he’s been tricked into being their human sacrifice. But a deal’s a deal and he needs his car fixed so despite being locked in a building full of killer adversaries and a group of young adults who were planning on burning the place down, he continues to clean the place as agreed to. And if that involves killing and cleaning up the mess of these mechanical monsters, then so be it.
Nicolas Cage is in ass-kicking form as he takes on the possessed, killer animatronics at Willy’s Wonderland. His character, the Janitor, doesn’t have any lines of dialogue but that doesn’t make him any less interesting or entertaining. He’s cool, he’s badass, he’s got an even more badass car and he isn’t at all phased by the ridiculous situation he finds himself in. All that matters is getting the place cleaned and killing anything that gets in his way of fulfilling his job so he can get out of town.
Oh, and it’s very important he gets plenty of breaks so he can knock back his energy drinks. While I admit this is far from an Oscar-worthy performance, it is nonetheless perfect for the style of this film and Cage delivers the goods in spades.
Director Kevin Lewis (The Third Nail, The Drop) has made a simple yet highly entertaining comedy, horror that blurs the line between A-grade and B-grade filmmaking. It’s not up there with what the big Hollywood studios are putting out, but it’s considerably better than a lot of the retrograde garbage I’ve sat through lately. Yeah I’m looking at you Psycho Goreman and Jiu Jitsu.
Lewis isn’t trying to do anything complicated or reinvent the wheel with Willy’s Wonderland and given the funny script and having Cage in the lead, there’s no need to. He delivers a straight forward (albeit silly and unrealistic) plot that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is. We’re here to see Cage go one-on-one with mechanical monsters (which look great by the way) and that’s exactly what we get. Nothing more. Nothing less.
OK, there’s some forgettable co-stars there too but we need a body count right? With such a silly premise and Cage delivering an intensely serious performance, it all meshes together to become the rare mix of action, comedy and horror gold that actually works.
Willy’s Wonderland is great fun and one of the most entertaining movies I’ve enjoyed recently. It was violent, it was silly, and it made me laugh. Cage’s intensely focused and serious performance in such a silly script has been the movie highlight of my year so far. With decent production values and some cool animatronic bad guys who are capable of some seriously nasty stuff, Willy’s Wonderland is an easy recommendation for Nicolas Cage fans and those who want to watch a popcorn flick that knows what it is.