It’s that time of year again when – for better or for worse – a Nic Cage film is released into the wild. Like him or loathe him, the actor’s body of work has meandered down a specific avenue over the last decade. The result has been a steady cult following for each picture he appears in, no matter how absurd, violent or hilarious the viewing experience may be. Director Kevin Lewis is the man behind the camera for his latest film, breaking a 13-year hiatus to work on the blood-curdling, jungle-gym nightmare that is Willy’s Wonderland; the opportunity to collaborate with the esteemed actor was evidently too great to turn down.
In the feature, Cage dons a leather jacket as the man of few words: a soda pop guzzling hero. Titled the Janitor, he finds himself tasked with an overnight cleaning job when his powerful Chevrolet bursts its tires and he can’t pay for the repairs. The work he takes is at Willy’s Wonderland: a child’s party palace with a chequered, blood-spattered past. Armed with a mop, the Janitor finds the job easy enough at first, but before long, the large, dust-covered, colourful robotic hosts in the building begin to pose more of a threat to him than he could ever have imagined. From this point on, a night of survival ensues.
Cage has been featured in this style of cinema most commonly in recent years, and – for the most part – the final products have been exciting and ground-breaking endeavours. The horror/thriller Mandy (2018) was jaw-droppingly incredible, taking the genre to new heights and smashing down the barriers of mainstream conventions. Color Out of Space (2019) was also praised for its visual experimentation and was blessed with a truly endearing concept. Willy’s Wonderland, however, bucks this trend and cuts the successful run short. The movie as a whole wouldn’t look out of place as an end-of-year college film project with its simplistic, cliché, unimaginative and entirely on-the-nose writing paired with some wobbly performances from the cast.
The actions of Cage’s character are quite incomprehensible. He’s not at all fazed, for instance, when first coming face to face with an animatronic bird that announces it is going to murder him for pleasure. The Janitor says almost nothing throughout the entire 82-minute duration of the feature. While initially alluring, all too quickly it becomes more nonsensical and parodic as more drama unfolds. What would make the arc of his persona more endearing – and quite frankly more understandable – would be if Willy’s Wonderland was part of the same universe and took place shortly after the events of Mandy, giving greater depth to the role.
As wild as some of Cage’s previous movies have been, at times they have been a barnstorming, mind-blowing success, rightfully earning their places as cult classics. Unfortunately, there is just too much missing from Willy’s Wonderland to fully complete the picture. The film strays into becoming a meme or caricature of itself and is far too aware of what it is trying to be and who it is trying to appeal to. If you are a fan of Cage’s cult classics, then you will be swept away once again by this Chuck E Cheese hell ride. However, even superfans cannot deny that Willy’s Wonderland is missing the killer touch. Perhaps it is for the best that this flick is being released straight to digital platforms on demand rather than in theatres.
Willy’s Wonderland is released digitally on demand on 12th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for Willy’s Wonderland here: