Review: Take the Cage pill and see “Willy’s Wonderland”

Braden Hajer and Nick Bird

Nicolas Cage is a man who is known for his outlandish movies. From “Con-Air” to “The Wicker Man,” Cage has a truly breathtaking repertoire and an equally breathtaking lack of self-control when it comes to accepting movie offers. To describe Cage’s most recent film, “Willy’s Wonderland,” is therefore a task that we struggled with immensely (we talked for an hour about how to even define it). To call it a “good movie” feels weirdly disingenuous, yet to call it “so bad it’s good” or simply “bad” feels like it robs the movie of a certain magic it has.

Perhaps to best review “Willy’s Wonderland” in good conscience, we must reject it as a film at all, and instead label it a Nic Cage Experience. You’ll see what we mean.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: this film shamelessly steals its setting, backstory and set-up from the indie horror game series “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” As with “Freddy’s,” “Willy’s Wonderland” revolves around an 80s children’s pizzeria filled with murderous animatronic characters and a new hire tasked with the night shift. However, while “Freddy’s” is a horror game through and through, Cage has no time for such trivialities. With the inspiration behind this Experience in mind, one would expect a fairly typical B-list horror movie spiced up with some classic Cage antics. That’s what we thought too going into it, but this was not the case.

What we got instead was one of the most enjoyable, surreal, mind-blowing and Cage-tastic 90 minutes we’ve ever experienced. It was released on Feb. 12, yet it seems few people even know it exists. We feel it is our duty to fix that.

“Willy’s Wonderland” rejects most of the fundamental principles of filmmaking and narrative storytelling. It sacrifices consistency with most other films in existence and even logic itself for the sake of the Experience. And God, is it beautiful. It stands out even among Cage films, as it features him as a silent protagonist with not a single drop of backstory or development for his character.

We need to be clear that this Experience earns its R rating. is for all intents and purposes rated R. It features a level of brutal violence that would make John Wick proud, and there is some degree of sexual content.

Even beyond that, though, this Experience is not for everyone. Besides the fact that Cage in general is not everyone’s proverbial cup of bees, the absurdity of “Willy’s Wonderland” may leave the average viewer confused at best. We do recognize that this Experience could not have been more hand-crafted for us, and when we watched it we were in a state of divine bliss. If the classic weird Nic Cage film, “Five Nights at Freddy’s” or “DOOM” appeals to you, this Experience is a must-watch.

Now, if “Willy’s Wonderland” is for you, it will give you everything you want it to. This thing isn’t subtle: you’re often able to tell exactly what’s about to happen next, and the satisfaction of that prediction becoming true precisely as you’ve envisioned it is marvelous and irreplaceable. At multiple points throughout its runtime, we literally begged for Cage to do something, and cheered excessively when he did.

In many ways, the specifics of this Experience allow it to work where it would otherwise veer off a cliff long before it could get going. Cage’s silent role combined with the methodical nature of his character make him an unimaginably entertaining spectacle and a borderline-force of nature. Nic’s got a restaurant to clean, and nothing’s gonna stop him.

“Willy’s Wonderland” was made on a modest budget of $5 million. While in some areas this does show, overall the technical details of this movie are serviceable. The animatronic characters generally look pretty decent. At times, their movements aren’t quite jerky enough to communicate 40-year-old rusted suits, but all in all they’re believable enough. There are only two moments that are actively unpleasant in their nature and hinder the movie. There’s one scene featuring obnoxiously-flashing, probably seizure-inducing lights, and the final confrontation between Nic and Willy is hard to follow when zoomed in and features some weird blur effects. Besides those two clear outliers, though, “Willy’s Wonderland” gets the job done.

If nothing else, “Willy’s Wonderland” can best be described as an incredibly-entertaining spectacle. Once again, while some may find this Experience a jumbled mess of nonsensical Cageisms, it knows exactly what it is and delivers on those points beautifully. In some senses, “Willy’s Wonderland” truly is a higher artform. We mean that legitimately. There is nothing else like it out there, and we can’t get enough of what it’s serving. It can be rented on Amazon Prime for the best $20 you’ll ever spend. We urge you to follow in our footsteps: break out of your Cage and see this film.