Let’s take you back to when you were younger. What was the place you always went to celebrate your birthday? Home (for parties with cake and soda), local restaurant (for a delicious meal) or an amusement park (for hours of fun)?
Wherever it was, we hope it wasn’t Willy’s Wonderland because then you might have celebrated your very last birthday. At least, according to director Kevin Lewis (“The Drop”, “Dark Heart”) who dedicated his latest movie to this dark and lugubrious place. While “Willy’s Wonderland” sometimes feels like a movie about the figures from Sesame Street going rogue, it’s still much fun and entertaining.
After being stranded in a deserted town due to his broken car, and not having enough money to pay the repair, a drifter (Nicolas Cage) strikes a deal with the local people. His car will be repaired for free, if he spends the night cleaning up the family amusement compound Willy’s Wonderland.
It seems like a fair trade, but when he and you learn about the dark and bloody past of the place, the deal becomes much darker. A few years ago, Willy’s Wonderland was shut down due to its cast of animatronic characters coming to life and going completely rogue and killing innocent people.
It seems that, while all the people are gone, nothing much has changed. The characters are still out for blood and in this case, the drifter’s, who for one night became the Janitor of one of the most sinister places in the town.
While he doesn’t need help from outside, that’s exactly what he gets when a girl named Liv (Emily Tosta), who has a remarkable connection to Willy’s Wonderland, convinces her friends to save the Janitor and burn down the place once and for all. Will they be able to beat those devilish animatronic characters and tear down the place permanently or will they become another sacrifice from the locals to Willy’s Wonderland?
Yes, when reading the storyline, you realize that after “Mandy” and “Colour out of Space”, Cage again descends into a crazy, head-spinning and over-the-top world. While the gore and craziness are too exaggerated in many scenes, “Willy’s Wonderland” delivers much fun, entertainment and a pleasant time.
Debut writer G.O. Parsons and Lewis don’t bring anything new to the ‘making it through the night and fighting peculiar creatures’ horror subcategory but it still seems like they had a lot of fun while creating the script. They take the time to make you aware of the dark history of the place and its characters while the temporary events are only really getting highlighted more towards the end.
A creepy Tinkerbell-like character, the real dark knight and a turtle who’s undoubtedly a sinister version of one of the Ninja Turtles all appear. Yes, there’s certainly a lot of creativity and personality in this movie, especially when you add the ‘no dialogue’ element to the script.
The ‘no dialogue’ rule only applies to the Janitor, and Cage doesn’t talk at all throughout the movie (the grunts and fight noises not included). However, that doesn’t make acting any easier, on the contrary. The facial expressions and body language need to be on-point. Cage totally owns the role and brings the usual and expected combination of intensity-violence-entertainment and does that with a lot of style and a huge rock ‘n roll vibe. He makes you wonder why the Janitor isn’t afraid of Willy’s Wonderland and its characters in the first place.
Cage is being surrounded by two strong female performances by Beth Grant (“Hover”, “Nostalgia”), who’s fascinating as the pleading and corrupt Sheriff Lund, and Emily Tosca (“Vikes”, “Selfie Dad”), who puts on a furious and bad-ass performance as Lev. While there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the cast, the other supporting performances sadly fall into the predictable stereotypical categories.
What makes this movie a peculiar and relatively memorable one is the cinematography. Thanks to the imagination of David Newbert (“She’s Just a Shadow”, “Boomtown”) and his excellent eye for incredible shots, it feels like you’re right in the room with the Janitor fighting the animatronics. The absence of fast and hard cuts during the fighting scenes and the presence of wide and long shots contribute to the increasing level of suspense and excitement.
Just like the Janitor himself, “Willy’s Wonderland” seems to be on tons of energy drinks as it races over the screen at a fast and head-spinning pace. While the storyline and overall feeling might not be for everyone, the movie still provides you with a lot of fun, enjoyment and escapism. What more do you need from a film, right?
“Willy’s Wonderland” is available via digital platforms from the 12th of February