In the schlocky ‘Willy’s Wonderland’, a mute Nicolas Cage goes nuts in a haunted kids’ restaurant
We are in a Nicolas Cage renaissance. But, then again, when aren’t we? Never one to shy away from, let’s say, challenging roles, the last two-plus years for Cage have been a psycho indie horror fever dream. From Mandy and Color Out of Space to Prisoners of the Ghostland and now Willy’s Wonderland, there’s no shortage of recent Caged weirdness.
Obviously inspired by the Five Nights at Freddy’s horror video game franchise and merchandise machine, Willy’s Wonderland from director Kevin Lewis (The Method) tries its hand at adapting a slam-dunk concept. So far haunted kids restaurant stories have been wildly successful, but people have realized them only in virtual spaces and literature. This foray into live action has mixed results.
How can a film about a cursed mechanical rat pizza and child casino fail? For one thing, there’s a surprising amount of exposition, and the movie relegates Cage to just binge-drinking soda and playing pinball for most of his screen time. Then there’s the curious choice of giving Cage zero lines of dialogue. How’s that even an option for a film starring someone who can make a line like “put it in the right file” into a rollercoaster experience?
At its most basic, the plot of Willy’s Wonderland follows The Janitor (Cage) as he gets stranded in a podunk town when his Camaro’s tires blow out thanks to mysteriously-placed spikes on the road. To pay off his wrecker and repair debt, he makes a deal to clean the town’s shuttered version of a Showbiz Pizza. It’s a telegraphed, nefarious setup, but Janitor silently and confidently takes on the responsibility.
Directed by: Kevin Lewis
Written by: G.O. Parsons
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emily Costa, Beth Grant
Running time: 88 min
In numerous flashbacks and lengthy monologues, the movie explains that a serial killer and his band of pedophiles founded and ran Willy’s Wonderland, until a number of child disappearances led to a police raid. The police were too late and found the murderers all dead. Through a satanic suicide ritual, the killers now spiritually inhabit the animatronic animal band lying in wait inside of the restaurant for any unsuspecting people who should enter.
With no explanation whatsoever of his prowess, Janitor handedly fends off attack after attack by these cursed creatures and continues with intense focus cleaning up the joint, stopping only to drink soda and play pinball. There’s a side plot about a teen girl who wants to burn down the place with her awful group of stereotyped teen friends, but the less we focus on that the better.
Willy’s Wonderland is predictably at its best when it allows Cage to let loose, going ape shit fighting the goofy animatronic characters. This is the apex of the new genre of Nicolas Cage showing up in low-budget indies to collect a check without even changing out of his leather jacket, senselessly beating monsters until their viscera soaks him. The creature effects are also primo.
Unfortunately, everything else in the film struggles to live up to and support these moments of Cage taking these Charles Entertainment Cheese analogues out behind the shed. There’s a discernible cadence and pacing to the good stuff, though, so maybe check this one out with your finger on the fast forward button or wait for a YouTube supercut.