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WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021) Review

Willy’s Wonderland is as bonkers as it is brilliant. Its Nicolas Cage unleashed at his finest. Read Neil’s review right here…

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Willy's Wonderland (Signature Entertainment)

Willy’s Wonderland is available to rent now on digital platforms where all good movies are sold.

Synopsis

The legend Nic Cage takes on a set of violent animatronic amusement park mascots in this action packed, nail-biting tale of terror that will take you on the ride of your life. Stranded in a remote town with a car that won’t work and no way to pay the local repair shop, The Janitor (Nic Cage) agrees to spend the night in an abandoned theme park full of animatronic characters that were once a joy to the kids of the town, but now hold a dark secret. As night falls, these once happy mascots come to life and they’re out for blood. Survive at any cost, it’s only one night!

Review

Director Kevin Lewis’ Willy’s Wonderland presents a unique opportunity to refresh some familiar concepts. There’s nothing new about a horror film set in a single location. Likewise there’s nothing new about creepy puppets or a small town with a dark secret. But what sets Willy’s Wonderland apart from absolutely every other film with these tropes is Nicolas Cage.

G.O. Parsons script presents a brawling, grunge-horror which refreshingly knows when to place its tongue in its cheek. Despite similarities to The Banana Splits Movie and Five Nights at Freddy’s, Willy’s Wonderland uses a propensity for eliciting a laugh from the audience as one of its strengths. That and having a fully committed, almost entirely mute, Nic Cage to ensure it lands with a grin rather than a grimace.

Cage plays The Janitor, a loner who winds up looking for work when his car mysteriously breaks down in a small town. Volunteering to work cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, a former family fun centre, overnight to pay off his debts, he winds up in a life-or-death battle with a bunch of possessed puppets. Its classic Cage. The mirrored shared. The black leather jacket. He simply oozes cool from the second he appears on screen. But for the entire 89 minute runtime he fails to speak a single world. Instead this is Cage being Uber-Cage through only his mannerisms and his fists.

The rest of the cast is fleshed out with throwaway teens played by Emily Tosta, Kai Kadlec, Caylee Cowan, Jonathan Mercedes, Christian Delgrosso an Terayle Hill. Tosta aside they really are cannon fodder for the possessed mascots at Willy’s to pick off. They serve their purposes well and are dispatched one-by-one through a series of repetitive setups. At times it feels like watching a video game. Each of the murderous creatures becomes the boss of their own level, existing in their own locale within Willy’s. What continues to elevate these often predictable scenarios is Cage. His brutal takedowns are the bread and butter of a film like this. But even those are further elevated by his crazy dance breakdowns and pinball games which break up the tension.

A handy spot of exposition from Tosta’s Liv provides some unnecessary but welcome context to the story. It proves that actually this isn’t simply an 80’s inspired slasher for the sake of it. There’s still a modicum of effort to apply some contemporary story beats to an otherwise straightforward story. Points for effort and even more for execution. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear The Janitor might return in the future to take on more supernatural threats.

In all Willy’s Wonderland absolutely capitalises on the preternatural appeal of its lead. It knows his strengths and it knows he’s a bankable star with an audience who will follow him to the bitter end. Even when that end is battling a group of supernatural puppets in a glorified Wacky Warehouse. It’s no mean feat to make that concept palatable let alone this enjoyable.

Verdict

Willy’s Wonderland is as bonkers as it is brilliant. Its Nicolas Cage unleashed at his finest.

Directed by Kevin Lewis, Willy’s Wonderland stars Nic Cage (Mandy) alongside Emily Tosta and Beth Grant.


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