‘Willy’s Wonderland’ Is Self Aware of Its Ridiculousness and Revels In It

Depending on your age, you may remember the prominence of Chuck E’ Cheese and the animatronics show that used to happen in its location. In which the robotic movements and big, blinking eyes probably lead to a good amount of nightmares for children across the United States. The Five Nights at Freddy’s video game series are a manifestation of those fears on a grander scale. Imaginations can run wild thinking of what can happen in these places once the crowds stop. These machines coming to life and being drunk in murderous rage and bloodlust.

Nicolas Cage, especially in his recent roles, has been marked for their eccentric and diverse idiosyncrasies. Complete with the way he delivers dialogue. Director Kevin Lewis uses him differently with Willy’s Wonderland. Set in the small town of Hayesville, Nevada, Cage’s character is just known as the Janitor. He’s a drifter with a muscle car intending to pass through, and he drives over a tire trap. Getting help from a local mechanic, Jed (Chris Warner), he meets Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz) who owns the closed and decrepit Willy’s Wonderland. Conveniently, there are no working ATMs in town, so Tex proposes something to The Janitor. Clean up Willy’s Wonderland overnight and it will be enough to pay for the work on his car. Sounds simple, right? Of course, there are more nefarious things at work and it would grow into a period that the town would not forget.

CR: Screen Media Films

One of the best parts of the movie is the janitor’s routine. Almost nothing phases him. He cleans, has an alarm that alerts him to take a break and retreat to drink two cans of soda, and playing pinball. Meanwhile, Willy’s Wonderland terror comes to life, and he disposes of them quickly. Then just retreats back to cleaning. It’s the facial expressions or lack thereof from Cage that makes it funny. That he can be so stoic in the face of supernatural-like danger.

Surrounding this are the actual inhabitants of the town. Liv (Emily Tosta) and her group of friends are aware of the evil that inhabits the abandoned children’s restaurant. Liv fills everybody in with some flashback exposition that involves a serial killer named Jerry Robert Willis (Grant Cramer) who used to own Willy’s Wonderland. Families disappear, and when the cops come to apprehend him, he invokes a satanic ritual that allows himself and his co-workers to inhabit the machines.

The teens in this movie are used to fill in the horror tropes that you would find in other slasher films. The friend who has a crush on Liv, Chris (Kai Kadlec), the couple that is all over each other, Bob and Kathy (Terayle Hill and Caylee Cowan), etc. They are used mainly as fodder to the animatronic robots as far as kills. There’s also another plot with Liv and her caretaker, Sheriff Eloise (Beth Grant). With further explanation, she explains why the evil still permeates through Hayesville. Apparently, these robots can also leave the building putting the town in peril. There was a deal that was struck and sacrifices have to be given. However, they did not count on The Janitor’s arrival.

Cage’s disposal of the robots can get a little repetitive granted that he beats them so easily. Many of the set pieces like cults, possession, and a town trying to keep secrets has been done in other horror movies. However, Lewis leans into all the absurd qualities of the film that will resonate with an audience. Maybe as a cult classic years down the road. The movie leans into practical effects that make the kills seem dirty and brutal. David Newbert’s cinematography style switches between dreamlike-states and focus on the fighting that happens. It’s where Willy’s Wonderland finds it’s footing the most.

At a point in the movie, Liv speaks of The Janitor and says, “he isn’t locked up here with them. They are locked up in here with him.” Willy’s Wonderland is aware of its cheesiness and embraces it to the fullest extent. While the main story around it may not be as strong, if you think of it of one man invested in survival and cleanliness – there’s something here for you.

Photo Credit: Screen Media Films


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Author: Murjani Rawls View all posts by
Journalist, Self-published author of five books, podcast host, and photographer since 2014, Murjani Rawls has been stretching the capabilities of his creativity and passions, Rawls has as a portfolio spanning through many mediums including music, television, movies, and more. Operating out of the New York area, Rawls has photographed over 200+ artists spanning many genres, written over 700 articles ranging displaying his passionate aspirations to keep evolving as his years in media continue.

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