The film “Willy’s Wonderland” is the kind of independent horror film you think about for days after viewing. However, most of these thoughts concern the movie’s failings.
If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez of “Spy Kids” collaborated on a movie while high on peyote, it would look something like “Willy’s Wonderland.” The entirety of the film imbues a sense of whimsical horror, yet declines to explain any of the circumstances surrounding the central story. While I struggled to see past my inability to suspend my disbelief, there are features of this film that prove refreshing in a genre plagued by repetition. Most of these creative departures fell flat on their face, but the effort is noted nonetheless.
The film begins as every cinephile hopes: Nicolas Cage speeding in a Chevrolet Camaro dressed in all leather. While coded as a brooding vagabond, Cage’s rendition looks more like a freshly-divorced middle-aged soccer dad who bought a Harley Davidson leather jacket in lieu of the motorcycle.
Beyond his fashion choices, Cage’s unnamed character, “the janitor,” fails to garner audience attention by refusing to speak throughout the entire story. The protagonist’s unexplained insistence on staying completely and utterly silent, coupled with his mysteriously specific knowledge of this podunk childrens’ party venue, puts a substantial narrative strain on the viewer. In order to get on board with the turbulent meaning-making processes of “Willy’s Wonderland,” I would recommend pairing this film with a glass of vodka.
All the same, there is an undeniable and elusive magic to the heavy-handed, campy gore of “Willy’s Wonderland.” The entire movie follows almost the exact same plotline as the mobile video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” except instead of hiding from the robotic singing animals in the office, our protagonist mercilessly pummels the creatures into heaps of electronic junk. I felt a sincere sense of joy while watching Cage rip the gizzards from a mechanical singing ostrich. All the same, these moments of violently vindictive fun, while visually stimulating, cannot save the rest of this floundering story.
Do not get me wrong, I like watching Cage beat the living daylights out of an animatronic children’s mascot just as much as the next guy. But the swift, unshaken justice our protagonist imparts upon each animal-robot hybrid falters in its too-easy delivery. How does the janitor know the specific weak spots of the murderous animatronics? Why does his watch timer go off every half hour? Why does Cage need to drink so many energy drinks and play a pinball machine? These are just a few of the unanswered questions I still have.
“Willy’s Wonderland” does more wrong than it does right, but fails in a way that is fun, fresh and exciting. Although I thoroughly hated large parts of the viewing experience, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Any horror fan like myself will delight in the film’s unabashed bravery in forsaking all of the rules followed by the standard studio scream.
“Willy’s Wonderland” is only available to rent on platforms such as Amazon. I admittedly spent $20 to rent the movie for 48 hours, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. To offset the costs, both monetarily and morally, I recommend screening the film with your social pod, and drinking every time Cage bandages a life-threatening wound with duct tape.