Willy’s Wonderland

      Comments Off on Willy’s Wonderland

Willy’s Wonderland (2021) is really a film for people of a certain age. Willy’s Wonderland plays with the terror of what once was Chuck E. Cheese. This chain of restaurants with arcades was the preeminent spot for pre-adolescent birthday parties. It also happened to include a disturbing animatronic Munch’s Make Believe Band. These robots were, for a generation, the stuff of nightmares. Willy’s Wonderland offers those kids, now grown up, the ultimate catharsis in the form of Nicolas Cage.

Cage, who is no stranger to being sacrificed to weirdo cults in trashy movies, plays a drifter whose car is broken down who must, in exchange for repairs, spend the night cleaning the restaurant of the title. Willy the weasel and his pals have becomes possessed by serial killers through black magic and proceed to attack Cage. But no one ever counted on Cage being more dangerous than the monsters to which the town has sacrificed him.

Nicolas Cage doesn’t say one word in Willy’s Wonderland. This is the kind of goofball horror picture where quick quips and puns are almost prerequisite and yet the star of the film says nothing. This choice actually benefits the film by minimalizing the complexity of Cage’s character. Cage exists as a mystery, almost as if just being Nicolas Cage is enough. One can assume that Cage, an avid devotee of silent film acting, leapt at the chance to eschew his star persona in the aesthetic milieu of the silent screen performer.

Ironically sound design and music are essential to director Kevin Lewis’ vision of the film. The sounds of mechanical bodies in motion becomes an ominous harbinger of doom just as Cage’s alarm reflexivly signifies narrative pacing. The songs performed by Willy and company are, by comparison, incidental to the building tension of the film though they do help to create the very specific atmosphere of places like Chuck E. Cheese.

Willy’s Wonderland and it’s “less is more” philosophy when it comes to Nicolas Cage should really have extended into the rest of the film. Willy’s Wonderland is at its best when it is simply just Nicolas Cage trying to clean and occasionally having to battle an animatronic critter in a hat. Once the film starts world building and adding different narrative threads the whole thing begins to feel more conventional and far less interesting. The plot should have been as anomalous and bizarre as a film where Nic Cage never speaks but it insists upon conforming to genre conventions.