Willy's Wonderland (2021) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Willy's Wonderland (2021) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on July 07th, 2021 | Movie Review | Comedy, Survival, Supernatural, Campy

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It’s about the fun of being trapped in a haunted fun house.

Willy’s Wonderland was directed by Kevin Lewis (who previously directed The Method, The Drop, and Malibu Spring Break), written by G.O. Parsons, and stars Nicolas Cage (Vampire’s Kiss and the The Wicker Man remake) and Emily Tosta (from the television series Party of Five).

Some movies are like video games, and some video games are like movies, but Willy’s Wonderland is something new.

Willy's Wonderland Review

Movies and video games have been converging for quite a while now. We have video games made into movies (think: Sonic the Hedgehog or Assassin’s Creed). We have a slew of movies which have been adapted as games (consider: John Wick Hex). We have movies which have flirted with the overlap (recall the over-hyped Tron and the under-appreciated Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Now, with Willy’s Wonderland, we have a total synthesis. We have a video game movie.

At first, Willy’s seems like just another brainless – albeit plucky – bit of filmmaking. Tired but serviceable.

First, we have a drifter without a name with some star quality – Nicolas Cage, credited only as “The Janitor” in the credits – who rolls into town and gets himself in a fix. We have a troubled teen with a penchant for arson and a disappointed Sheriff/mom who’s certain to cross paths with the drifter before we conclude act one. Finally, add a neglected video game arcade/pizza family fun center for a set and we’re off to a hoe-hum beginning.

The Janitor is tricked into a deal; he’ll clean the arcade in exchange for the return of his Camaro and a ticket out of town. Boy, does he clean. I mean, he can really clean, and without complaint – without speaking at all. Cage’s character is mute. Nameless and mute; a challenge for most actors, but Cage was born for this role.

The hero must periodically power-up with a “Punch” can of soda and rack up some points on a themed pinball machine before his measure of energy is restored for the next combat challenge against an animatronic arcade character. And like the very best video games, Willy’s is two dimensional, scrubbed clean of depth.

There’s no theme. There’s no symbolism. No messaging. There’s a total lack of explanations. Is the Janitor a human being or a mystical archetype? He’s neither. He’s the Janitor. You don’t explore the background of Ryu in Street Fighter unless you want to destroy gamer engagement. And you don’t explore the motivations of the Janitor, either.

Granted, there’s a dash of characterization, but only insofar as necessary to support the gameplay. Everything else that one might associate with film has been swept away and rag-polished to a gleaming sheen. Not a single dust mote of irony mars the surface. Riddles are not solved; they’re not even riddles. Even the camp has been skillfully squeegeed away.

Worth Watching?

Heck, yeah.

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