REEL Review – Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Director: Kevin Lewis | 1h 28mins | Action, Comedy, Horror

A silent man known as “The Janitor” (Nicolas Cage) breaks down on the highway. With no cash to pay for his repairs, he takes a job cleaning the now cursed, Willy’s Wonderland.

Kevin Lewis’ barbaric ‘horror’ uses the always silly premise of cute and friendly objects, or animals, coming to life and causing chaos. It’s a premise that has never given us anything of real substance and probably never will. These kinds of movies and their popularity can be blamed on Child’s Play (1988), the film that somehow turned a film about an evil doll into a multi-million dollar film franchise. But, that kind of optimism feels completely unwarranted with Willy’s Wonderland, a charmless and odd affair that’s biggest draw is in the hands of it’s mute main character. 

The film is set in a rural American town that’s occupied by a very small number of people; a no nonsense sheriff, a ‘texas tycoon’ type, a wily group of teens set on breaking the towns curse and of course the animatronics that eat unknowing travellers. One of these travellers is a nameless Nicolas Cage, who breaks down on the highway and is charged with spending the night cleaning Willy’s Wonderland, in order to pay for the fixing of his car. 

Cage’s character is meant to be the exhausted protagonist, the type that sees no threat no matter how ridiculous it is – including satanic mascots of a family funland. But, the silent protagonist has about as much character as the jacket he’s wearing, a bland archetype of the macho leading man. The conversation on whether or not Cage is a good actor won’t be answered because he doesn’t have a lot to say, but the question that should be asked is “does Nicolas Cage pick great projects?” – and the answer is a resounding No. 

The biggest problem this film has is that it seriously can’t decide whether it’s tongue ‘n’ cheek, or if it’s taking itself way too seriously.

While the protagonist (or “The Janitor”) mows through the occasional animatronic getting in the way of his cleaning, on the outside the mystery of where the killers come from is brewing. A group of teenagers, most notably Emily Tosta’s ‘Liv’, are planning to burn the building to rid the town of this terrible evil. What follows is a painfully acted mess of gruesome deaths and a twist that is completely underwhelming. But, the biggest problem this film has is that it seriously can’t decide whether it’s tongue ‘n’ cheek, or if it’s taking itself way too seriously. 

As for the animatronics, they’re poorly conceived. While there’s no mystery that these are actors in costume, the film makes absolutely no attempts to hide this. There’s one particular animatronic whose arms are even visible in costume. But, while the film suffers in it’s presentation of the villains, it’s in their violent decimation that you’ll have the most fun watching Willy’s Wonderland. Cage’s ultra-violent outbursts, including a pretty gruesome toilet fight with a Gorilla, are the one inkling of hope this film has – to reach an audience and hopefully find some sort of cult following through its action and absurdity. 

If you want to see something as barbaric as Nicolas Cage beating the hinges out of people dressed as animatronics, then by all means give this film a go. But, every surrounding aspect of the film is a beaming neon sign telling you to stay away from Willy’s Wonderland at all costs.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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