Film Review: ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ (2021)

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Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant
Director: Kevin Lewis
Distributor: Signature Entertainment

“Okay kids, clap your hands like there’s no tomorrow!” 

A creepy, yet hilarious film, Willy’s Wonderland successfully recertifies Nicolas Cage as the King of Crazy. From director Kevin Lewis, and writer G. O. Parsons, this film exists as a fusion of a throwback adventure and a real-life nightmare for others. The throwback of family entertainment venues, mixed with the nightmare of animatronic mascots coming to life in a murderous fashion, results in a fizzy pop rush which lasts just under 90 minutes – holy grail territory.  

Nicolas Cage – first introduced speeding in his Chevy Camaro on the open road – is the 2021 version of The Man with No Name, though he is subsequently credited as “The Janitor” – you will find out why. Plus, he doesn’t utter a word, but instead, he does his talking with the way he looks at you. After an issue with his Chevy, Cage finds himself stranded in the town of Haysville. Whilst his ride is in repair, Cage has no choice but to take up temporary employment in that of a janitor for a night at a derolic and desolate family entertainment venue, Willy’s Wonderland – the real dirt lies beyond the rust and the dust, but instead, the creepy-as-f*ck, animatronic mascots…all of whom are possessed by evil spirits. How do we reckon Cage’s first day on the job will go? 

Existentially, Willy’s Wonderland bounces between horror and comedy. Nowadays, it is a rarity to not read a new Nicolas Cage film – in this over-the-top manner – as a slightly comedic picture. In this guise, however, the comedy is of a jet black nature – like Cage’s hair and beard. The fast-paced editing and cinematography present throughout the scenes within Willy’s Wonderland manage to parallel Cage’s slightly excessive consumption of Punch Pop during his breaks at work. The whole vibe, mise-en-scene and ambiance within Willy’s Wonderland is completely different to that of the outside world – internally it’s another world and differently shot film altogether. The venue itself manages to have both “KID KILLERS,” and “GATEWAY TO HELL,” tagged on the side, which is worrying. The cult of Cage gets weirder and weirder as the national treasure of the B-movie finds himself desecrating and massacring pure evil in a grotesque, yet hilarious fashion. All accompanied with original music from Emoi too.  With a mystery at the heart of the film, waiting to be unpacked, Willy’s Wonderland is a continuously fun thrillride that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Though another spectacle of the “Crazy Cage” nature, there is a flaw in that once an array of teens/young adults led by wannabe arsonist Liv (Emily Tosta) enter the fray with the desire to destroy the venue, Cage’s character disappears out of the limelight. Up until this point, Cage’s Janitor had transcended into repetition, so perhaps, it is the right decision for Cage to take a back seat for a while. This downside aside, every other aspect of Cage in Willy’s Wonderland is contextually excellent. One of Cage’s greatest components is his look – with the black shades finishing off an already excellent figure, Cage is untouchably cool. Willy’s Wonderland takes great pride in having its characters have the right look for this film. Both of its two leads – Cage’s Janitor and Tosta’s Liv – are first visually introduced by their footwear – good footwear too. On the flipside, the sleazier, greasier, redneck characters look filthy and grotesque. Completely disgusting. How we want them to look. 

Ultimately, Kevin Lewis’ Willy’s Wonderland is a tremendous throwback picture which successfully encapsulates the beauty of yesteryear. The old school entertainment arcades, music, and gore, all collectively establish a wholesome ambiance in what is very much a disturbing and violent film at times too. The likes of The Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn, and even A Nightmare on Elm Street, all have influences on this film, be it in little or large doses, and it’s greatly admirable. 

Willy’s Wonderland is out now on digital. Many thanks to Signature Entertainment for the pleasure of this film.

4 Stars

Dom.

For John.


This article’s featured image: By Source, Signature Entertainment, Fair Use

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