Five Nights at Nic’s. Watch Nicholas Cage face off against 8 possessed animatronic mascots in ‘Willy’s Wonderland; the genre sure loves it gimmicks, but is it any good?
Let’s find out…
The plot sees a mysterious (and mute) drifter (Cage) ensnared in a trap orchestrated by the locals in a backwater town in the rural US. After hitting a stinger strip the gentleman is forced to get his car fixed by the local garage, their rhetoric rather predicably one of needing to order in parts, which of course will take some days, and in the meantime their would-be victim would have to endure the local hospitality. In this case, however, it’s not just dodgy bars and flea-bag motels, no, here ‘The Janitor’ (as Cage’s character is referred to) gets an opportunity to have the repair work done for free, the catch being that he must overnight in a derelict kids themed restaurant with a sordid past and possessed mascots; and give it a clean whilst he’s there. Undeterred he takes up the offer, dons the uniform and gets to work. Needless to say his evening shift is not a quiet one.
Whilst the plot is pretty simple, and its execution even simpler, I mean for a lot of the film ‘The Janitor’ actually does a fair bit of cleaning, this film actually manages to hold its novelty value right to the end. The restaurant itself has a quirky (if a little generic) backstory, and there’s tonnes of effective and engaging ‘world building’ delivered through a range of campy, yet memorable media such as theme-songs and faux promotional videos. Plenty of gif-able and quotable stuff which will see the film linger around forums and the internet long after the projects release no doubt. This is one of those movies, which honestly just works when it really shouldn’t because it was clearly a project aware of its limitations and agonisingly and painstakingly developed to miss the pitfalls.
Its pacy, its funny and it packs a punch when it comes to the violence. Writer G.O Parsons and director Kevin Lewis clearly know what makes the genre tick. Bypassing entirely the ass-annoying nerd humour and ‘trying-to-hard-to-be-liked’ genre references which sink so many similar efforts, ‘Willy’s Wonderland’ takes its cues from the much-coveted formulas laid out by the likes of Raimi and his peers when creating their single location breed of splatter horror/comedy.
I acknowledge that’s a fairly bold statement to make, and don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t an immediate classic, but I had a great time with it, nevertheless.
Now I’m not really one for getting hung up about a particular cast member being present in a movie, well perhaps one Mr Campbell aside, and so the presence of Nicholas Cage wasn’t really a draw to me, after all, he’s been in a fair few genre films with mixed results. That said, you can’t deny, there’s some intrigue there as to how that level of star power could become associated with something which would, at best, appeal to a niche selection of genre fans. Whilst his character isn’t going to catalyse a franchise Cage brings some interesting ideas to the table, acting as an eccentric mute, addicted to pinball and energy drinks and I can see fans being impressed with his commitment to the role, regardless of the movies stature.
Needless to say, ‘Willy’s’ knows what you’ve come for, and yes, there are numerous high impact scenes of Cage kicking the absolute shit out of the possessed animatronics. The effects are good enough, with the animatronics varying in quality from great to plain looking, and the attack sequences coming at frequent enough intervals so that the quirky padding scenes in between the action never outstay their welcome. The film is more splatter themed than say ‘slasher’ themed and whilst the gore itself is rather tame from the human perspective, you do get to see a fair bit of mascot dismemberment and plenty of squirty black oily blood. Its not as OTT as it perhaps could have been, but you won’t leave feeling short changed either.
The film does, however, have a couple of niggles here and there. Some of the exposition is predicably daft and supporting characters don’t get personas anywhere close to the mystique of ‘The Janitor’ and whilst I appreciate the annoying teens are there for fodder, their lack of ‘character’ for want of a better word, doesn’t really see them fit cohesively into the goofy, vibrant and otherwise well-crafted world.
That said overall, this film delivers everything it needed to and it’s clear that every angle was worked to assure that there was nothing left on the table, nor corners cut with regards to entertainment value. Whilst the main draw of Cage vs. Animatronics takes precedence it would be doing the film something of an injustice to say that it is nothing but a one trick pony overall as there’s some great scenes to be enjoyed outside of the film’s carnage, coupled with a banging soundtrack. Not perfect, perhaps overhyped in certain circles, but I had a great time with it and reckon you will to!