The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Digital] - WILLY’S WONDERLAND | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Digital] - WILLY’S WONDERLAND

Willy's Wonderland review
A mute drifter agrees to spend the night cleaning a disused theme park, only to find himself battling sentient animatronics.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kevin Lewis

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Emily Tosta, Beth Grant, David Sheftell, Caylee Cowan

Willy's Wonderland poster

The Lumiere Brothers. DW Griffiths. Sergei Eisenstein. Colour cinematography. Widescreen. Digital streaming platforms. It's all been leading to delivering into our homes the sight of Nicolas Cage curb-stomping an animatronic gorilla on a urinal.

That moment is one of the centre-pieces of director Kevin Lewis's Willy's Wonderland, the latest in a series of increasingly bonkers movies starring the prolific Cage (has anyone had so much fun paying off debt?).

Willy's Wonderland review

Like the recent horror reworking of The Banana Splits, Willy's Wonderland features animatronic puppets that become sentient and unleash violence on anyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with them. The title refers to an abandoned children's theme park that houses eight evil animatronics, who have spent the past couple of decades feasting on human sacrifices.


When his sports-car breaks down, a mysterious mute drifter (Cage, whose character is credited simply as "The Janitor") is unable to pay the local mechanic for the repairs, and so to work off the debt he accepts the gig of spending the night cleaning up Willy's Wonderland. Fuelled by can after can of his favourite energy drink, The Janitor sets about spit and polishing the centre, only to find himself battling the animatronics. Also arriving on the scene is a group of teens led by the spunky Liv (Emily Tosta), who seems to have a personal reason behind wanting to destroy Willy's Wonderland.

Willy's Wonderland review

Over the past couple of decades, Cage has morphed from a genuine cult hero to a bit of a sad figure, drifting from one straight to video title to another in his quest to become debt free, having squandered over $150 million and being lax with his tax returns. But in recent years he seems to have found a way to keep working while also taking the sort of roles you imagine he might seek out regardless of whether he was desperate for a payslip or not. Movies like Mandy, Color Out of Space, Jiu Jitsu and the upcoming Prisoners of the Ghostland have seen him collaborate with cult filmmakers like Panos Cosmatos, Richard Stanley and Sion Sono on movies that boast the sort of psychotronic premises that the unconventional Cage has long gravitated towards.


As far as high concept pitches go, Nic Cage using a broom handle to defend himself from murderous, foul-mouthed theme park puppets is a winner from the off. Of course, Willy's Wonderland never fully lives up to that premise, thanks largely to director Lewis's slapdash staging and the manic editing, which denies us to chance to truly revel in the onscreen insanity. But there's enough here to satisfy fans of Cage's peculiar brand of charisma.

Willy's Wonderland review

Known for his shouty, over-the-top performances, Cage is cast against type here as a mute, never uttering so much as a single word through the entire movie. And it works. Cage's taciturn turn reminds us that behind the dialled up to 11 scenery chewing is a genuinely magnetic screen presence. In a less is more performance, Cage simply oozes cool. How many actors can make the act of cleaning seem as cinematic as Cage makes it here? He spends a lot of time polishing and rubbing away at grime, and it's as thrilling as any of the film's action set-pieces.

While it never quite ascends into future cult status, Willy's Wonderland succeeds because it's aware of its limited appeal and keeps things simple. It never gets needlessly bogged down in plot, and when the backstory is revealed, it's done so in an entertaining flashback that doesn't slow down the action. Even if the execution renders much of Willy's Wonderland a missed opportunity on the action front, you certainly get what you pay for here, and the filmmakers should thank their lucky stars they managed to get Cage onboard, as I can't think of another living actor who could make this work.

Willy's Wonderland
 is on UK Digital now.



2021 movie reviews