Willy Make It
Through The Night
USA 2021 Directed by Kevin Lewis
Warning: Some basic plot set up spoilers reside within.
It took me a while to get into Nicolas Cage as an actor. I never used to like him much until the film Wild At Heart was released into cinemas back in 1990 and he was absolutely perfect in it. So I’ve kept an eye on him, off and on and, certainly in the last ten or fifteen years, he’s really done some outstanding work and I have a lot of respect for him now.
Willy’s Wonderland is basically what happens if you take Cage, remove any lines of dialogue from his character and... drop him into a similar scenario as The Banana Splits Movie (reviewed here) to have him fighting off cute looking animatronic characters with evil intentions. Of course, that sounds like a crazy scenario right there so, yeah, obviously, this is perfectly suited for the actor.
And it’s a wild ride.
The back story is that, years ago a cadre of serial killers who owned the local themed kids restaurant, Willy’s Wonderland, started killing off the odd guest and, when the police figured out what they were up to, instead of being taken alive, they all killed themselves in a black magic suicide ritual which embedded their spirits into the various animatronic animals in the restaurant (such as Willy Weasel). However, they went on killing and the local people in the small village where this film is set did a deal whereby the characters wouldn’t leave the shut down restaurant and kill everyone in the village as long as the townsfolk would lock the odd ‘customer’ in there with them to feed their lust for killing. So, every now and again, they spike the tires of a passing car and feed the occupants some story to get them to stay the night in Willy’s Wonderland... where a violent death by cute animatronic critter awaits them.
That’s the basic plot set up (revealed over the course of the movie in flashbacks) and the film starts off with one of those sequences which shows a family of three ‘experiencing’ Willy’s Wonderland for themselves, so the audience knows how dangerous it is when Nicolas Cage’s unnamed character, just referred to as ‘The Janitor’ on the end credits, is left in charge of Willy’s for the evening. There’s also something else the set up shows but, it’s a little surprise reveal for later in the movie and I’m not going to spoil that for you here.
So Cage has his car spiked and is talked into staying the night in the restaurant, cleaning the place up for a grand re-opening in return for the owner paying the local mechanic to repair his car. And then he’s locked in for the night with the animatronics and the fun begins. However, there’s also a local bunch of teenagers, lead by Liv (played by Emily Tosta) who want the constant slaughter to stop and so they are trying to a) burn the place down and b) get ‘the janitor’ out before he’s killed. The trouble is... the janitor doesn’t want to come out. He just wants to finish cleaning and if he has to battle and dispose of the animatronics to do it, he will.
Actually, one of the key things about what makes this movie so watchable is Cage’s character. He seems to have no real motivation for staying and barely listens or communicates with anyone other than on his own terms. Also, he has gazillions of cans of his favourite drink (Punch) from his car and every hour or so his watch alarm will go off and he will stop for a break and to finish up another can of Punch. And I mean anytime! He can be in the middle of battling a mechanical antagonist or saving the life of somebody but, as soon as his watch alarm goes off again, he just stops whatever he’s doing and goes off to drink and kick back by playing the wonderful Willy’s Wonderland pinball machine which they’ve made for the film. Damn... we need one of those in real life. I’m disappointed you can’t download an app of the table.
Anyway, the film is beautifully shot and has the usual ‘bug nuts crazy’ kind of intensity that Cage brings to his roles when he’s allowed. Most of the kids are there just to be animatronic fodder but that’s okay. There’s a little bit of blood but there’s a whole lot of oil spray and grease laden machine innards to take the place of the red stuff for the action scenes and it all seems to work well, with Cage obsessively changing into another new Willy’s Wonderland T-shirt every time he gets spattered. Actually, I’ve since read that the character Cage plays is supposed to be slightly autistic and I guess that makes a kind of sense because, there’s no other explanation for the frequent drink breaks... but it’s not actually made clear in the body of the movie that this is the case.
And it’s a nice film. The pacing is just right and there’s the occasional Easter egg such as, when one animatronic is violently decommissioned by the janitor, you can just make out the same sound effect as the Millennium Falcon hyperdrive malfunction from the Star Wars films mixed into the background. So, lots of violence plus some nice performances from a lot of the actors (especially Cage, Tosta and Beth Grant as the local sheriff). It also does that nice thing of taking a happy tune... “It’s your Birthday and we want you to have fun”, sung by the animatronics in this case... and pitching it against the dark, violent and sinister scenes to enhance the unsettling nature of the film in its deliberate juxtaposition.
So, yeah, if you’re an admirer of Cage movies like Mum and Dad (reviewed here), The Colour Out Of Space (reviewed here) and Mandy (reviewed here), then Willy’s Wonderland should give you your next best fix of similar craziness. I loved this movie and this certainly won’t be the last time I watch it. And it would make a really great double bill with The Banana Splits Movie too so, yeah, get watching.