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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell J.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021) Is a Thrill Ride You Surely Won’t Forget

Title: Willy’s Wonderland

First Wide Release: February 12, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)

Director: Kevin Lewis

Writer: G.O. Parsons

Runtime: 88 Minutes

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here

After experiencing car trouble, a man (Nicholas Cage) is offered the chance to pay off his debt to the body shop by agreeing to clean a broken-down entertainment center, Willy’s Wonderland, overnight. Meanwhile, Liv (Emily Tosta) is arrested by her adoptive sheriff mother for trying to set fire to Willy’s Wonderland and is subsequently handcuffed to the radiator of her mobile home. Shortly after, her friends bust her out so she can carry out her plan to destroy the place that she knows is evil. How does she know it is evil? She watched her parents succumb to the horrors dealt by the malevolent animatronic cartoon animals that rule the dilapidated sideshow attraction many years ago. It’s up to the kids to warn the janitor from his impending doom and save him from the evil robots. Or is it?

Willy’s Wonderland is a delightful, carnage-filled romp that offers viewers a dose of much needed ludicrousness and adrenaline.

This is a unique film with a lot of interesting choices, mostly good, that make it stand out from the pack. Nicholas Cage does great, as always, as the Janitor. His performance is curiously restrained compared to some other recent efforts because of the bold choice for him to remain silent the entire film. His acting is entirely physical and facial which shows that he can still play unhinged without resorting to his signature crazy yelling. Some character decisions don’t make sense as the film continues. Any efforts to interfere with Cage go against all logic. It feels inserted into the film only to give some sort of balance to it and lengthen the runtime.

Which leads to my biggest issue with the film, it’s story. The teens are shoehorned into the plot as an excuse to up the body count and provide exposition dumps to progress the story, which isn’t a terrible thing in of itself, but it’s very clear from the moment they are introduced that they are merely plot devices. The tactics of the animatronics themselves don’t make much sense either. Not only do they not align with the flashback sequences, they logically make it easier to retaliate. When they hunt one by one, they give the Janitor the ability to completely wreck them. Sure, it’s more entertaining this way, but it is an inconsistency. Speaking of inconsistencies, at one point a damaged roof is completed repaired after a group of people fall through. I’m not sure if we are supposed to assume that the Janitor repaired it in a montage sequence, but it was a double-take moment for me that feels like a major issue.

Despite my issues with the plot, Willy’s Wonderland is an overall good experience. I appreciate the fast-paced nature of the filming. The viewer is treated to more languid shots just before danger strikes only to be assaulted with a barrage of rapid-fire shots when the violence ensues. It’s captivating and frightening, especially for this type of grindhouse film. The set design is as bright and boisterous as the script and offers plenty of nightmare material for the filmmakers to generate scare sequences. Strobes lights, shadows in the dark, and children’s play pens make for a wonderfully jarring and visceral experience.

The lore behind the animatronics is rich and I wish we learned more about them. Their personalities ring through without full range of motion in their faces which is a triumph. Speaking of which, the effects done on the animatronics are realistic and well-done. They are imposing while still capturing the innocence of a benign children’s robot. While Willy’s Wonderland falls a bit flat in some technical and storytelling areas it is otherwise an entertaining and memorable horror comedy.

Goofy fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Willy’s Wonderland is a refreshing ride into a carnival of horrors. Nicholas Cage delivers yet another charming performance to his repertoire of zany and unhinged characters. While it is predictable and falls into some familiar beats, Willy’s Wonderland never leaves a dull moment for its audience. If you’re looking for a good time and willing to turn your brain off, you’ll enjoy your trip to Willy’s Wonderland.

Overall Score? 7/10

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