New Releases: Willy's Wonderland (2021) - Reviewed


It's only fitting that with the darkness of 2020 beginning to fade, our savior, Nicolas Cage, delivers yet another cinematic miracle, bringing promises of peace and hope for 2021.  Loved and hated equally, Cage is an undeniable rarity in the acting world, with his prolific filmography ranging from highbrow academy fodder to trashterpiece classics of the highest order.  His latest, director Kevin Lewis' Willy's Wonderland, is sly refutation of 80's American values that masquerades as an absolutely bonkers cult film destined for classic status.  Featuring yet another unforgettably insane performance from Cage, dirty toilet visuals, and a chillingly familiar premise, this is a film that is emblematic of why popcorn flicks are held in such high regard.  

A loner's car breaks down in a small Nevada industrial town and he is forced to clean a dilapidated family entertainment restaurant to pay for the repairs.  Unknown to The Janitor, demonic animatronics await him and they're starving.  G.O. Parson's script was rescued from the Blood List by Cage himself who wanted to produce.  For the entire 88-minute duration, Cage's Janitor does not speak, and this enhances the central concept of the film.  There is a rhythm at work, a terrifying, cosmic dance that weaves around the characters, both flesh and cheap metal and plastic.  The Janitor maintains a strict regimen, taking breakings to thirstily gulp down sodas whilst obsessively trying to obtain the highest score on a forsaken pinball machine.  These breaks are nonnegotiable, even in the middle of a battle.  Cage is obviously in on the joke and it is his patented fully-automatic commitment to his roles that makes this work. The rhythm echoes in Willy's theme song, a blood curdling nightmare that will instantly transport anyone alive in the 80's to the surreal music cafeterias of Chuck E Cheese and Showbiz Pizza Place, albeit with a Satanic twist that also echoes the paranoia that strived in post-cold war America.  




There are dance numbers and musical fight scenes in which Cage completely commands attention, so much so that the rest of the cast exist purely as fodder, either for the machines, or for Cage himself.  Underneath the delirium however lies a sad core of memory.  As Cage stalks the lonely hallways with mop and broom, as he cleans the graffiti and grime away to reveal what was a charnel house in family fun clothing, it is impossible not to conjure thoughts of struggling families pouring small fortunes of quarters into towering machines in an endless quest for tickets.  The entire town of Hayesville has been forgotten, forever cursed by the nefarious legacy of Willy's and yet, inextricably tied to it for survival.  As Cage's Janitor spills buckets of black machine blood and ritualistically cleans them up as well as himself, the cyclical nature of capitalistic pursuit could not be clearer. And yet, it is also just an absolutely insane premise that never surrenders its ludicrous creed for any sense of logic or purpose. 

Emoi's (who also voice's Willy) unforgettably creepy soundtrack is the heart’s blood, entwining the humans; The Janitor and a group of unbelievably stupid (even for a horror film) teenagers, with menacing birthday jingles and corrupted children's classics.  David Newbert's economic cinematography uses the shadows to obscure unneeded details to enhance the gore while also framing Willy's in an almost indescribable darkness that is pervaded by filth and detritus. Jennifer Chandler's set decoration is the most vital aspect, bringing Willy's Wonderland to life by twisting the mind's eye into a perversion of childlike wonder and nostalgia to create a small corner of hell on earth.  


Now available for digital rental (theater at home prices), Willy's Wonderland is an essential viewing experience for fans of cult cinema and trash films.  A soiled, blood-stained snapshot of modern American history, this is both a hilarious romp and a chilling horror parable about dealing with the devil, made possible because Nicolas Cage continues his unending campaign of bizarre and artful performances in films that quite simply would not exist without his adoration for the medium and his faith in silly, obtuse, and absolutely awesome ideas.  

--Kyle Jonathan