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Review: Willy’s Wonderland – “To be kind, you could say it’s a homage to the 80s B-movie cult favourites”

Nicolas Cage plays a silent drifter with no name in Willy’s Wonderland. After his car suffers several flat tyres and breaks down, he is unable to pay for the repairs and agrees to work his debt off by staying overnight in a local rundown family restaurant called Willy’s Wonderland to do some cleaning. As he begins his work, he discovers the mechanical creatures that used to sing happy birthday songs at the restaurant are not what they seem to be. His overnight stay becomes a battle for survival against the mechanised children’s characters that are possessed by the souls of the serial killers who once owned and worked at the park, having committed suicide in a convenient satanic ritual.

To be kind, you could say Willy’s Wonderland is a homage to the 80s B-movie cult favourites such as Killer Clowns From Outer Space or Critters. You could also say that Willy’s is derivative, lazily written and executed, yet somehow also tries too hard.

The film has the usual well-worn horror elements, such as the group of rebellious teenagers who get picked off one by one, such as the grumpy town Sheriff, played by Donnie Darko’s Beth Grant and the evil wealthy property owner, played by Ric Reitz. The boxes are ticked and with Nicolas Cage on board, you could be forgiven for at least hoping for some silly and enjoyable fun. But the fun never appears and even with the film clocking in at under 90 minutes, it feels long and drawn out. Perhaps the script would have been better served as part of a TV horror anthology, such as the Creepshow TV series. The story could have been boiled down to the essentials, leaving no time for boredom or examination.

The performances are game enough from the young supporting cast who are no doubt hoping this will be the film they will one day have to hope is forgotten, just like Jennifer Aniston for her appearance in Leprechaun, George Clooney in Return Of The Killer Tomatoes! or Nicolas Cage in Willy’s Wonderland.

Willy’s Wonderland obviously aims for high-camp kitsch but fails to commit to this goal and because of this, the more bizarre moments (of which there are a few) feel lost. There is a scene involving Cage performing a dance while playing a pinball machine he keeps returning to for no apparent reason. This is fine in theory, but it falls short of being so over the top that it’s funny and it just feels weird, going on for too long like a drunken relative on the Christmas Karaoke machine. Jump scares feel hollow and forced because the film doesn’t draw the viewer into the moment, so when a thing jumps out from behind another thing, you shrug your shoulders and go back to wondering how much longer there is left to go.

The choices Nicolas Cage has made in the last decade or so are of course motivated by well documented financial considerations and he may indeed be having fun with some of these recent roles. But it is difficult to ignore this is the same actor who gave us some wonderful performances in films such as Birdy, Raising Arizona and Leaving Las Vegas. He has also been hugely entertaining in The Rock, Con-Air and Wild At Heart. You can’t help but hope that someone close to him will one day take him aside and ask him to perhaps sell a dozen cars, one of his islands and a castle or two and simply get back to doing what he does best, which is give moving and entertaining performances in good quality films.

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