HUMMEL Review: Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

As anyone who spends a lot of time online would know, Five Nights at Freddy’s became a breakout video game series in 2014. The basic game worked on a very simple premise: a night security guard, working at a haunted Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant, needed to strategically protect himself in an isolated security room by closing doors and keep sentiment animatronics from ambushing and killing him.

The game worked in-spite of its radically simple game design and became an enormous phenomena with seven official sequels, several spin-offs, novelizations and an enormous chain of merchandise.

Naturally, one of the outgrowths of the concept was an attempt to adapt a film from the franchise. Initially, Warner Brothers announced an adaptation in 2015 directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember, Poltergeist remake). Subsequently, that version of the film was scrapped and the film moved to Blumhouse where and adaptation directed by Christopher Columbus was pitched. As of 2021, the studio has gone back and forth with series creator Scott Cawthon and may go into production sometime this year.

Amusingly, the official adaptation of FnaF appears to have been beaten to cinemas by two unlikely ripoffs. The Banana Splits recently dropped and the second ripoff just drops on VOD and theaters.

Willy’s Wonderland is based on a 2015 short film that caught the attention of Nicolas Cage. He subsequently joined on the project as the star and producer and earned the film a small cult following before released. The premise seemingly borrowed the core concept of the game’s story and rebuilt it into a different kind of story.

Much like the game, the film is set in a haunted children’s arcade. The story follows an unnamed vagrant driving through a rural town when his career gets a flat tire. When the mechanic says he can only take cash, the man agrees to work a night job at the local arcade cleaning the place up in exchange for his car repairs.

As it quickly turns out, the animatronics are alive and want to kill him. Surprisingly, the unnamed man is unphased. He continues to do his job and systematically beats the animatronics into the dust one by one.

Willy’s Wonderland isn’t a great film. It’s dumb, contrived, atonal, cheap looking and wacky. It’s a pastiche of themes, ideas and concepts from completely different films and genres that don’t mesh well together and aren’t executed in such a way as to preserve the functionality of the original concept.

At the same time, it’s hard to deny the charm of the film’s premise. The movie is trying very hard to lean into the goofiness of its core concept. It almost works as a complete inversion of the premise of Five Nights at Freddy’s.

Almost…

There were at least half a dozen times when I was laughing at the film… although not necessarily with it…

The “subversion” of the premise of the game is a rather striking feature. It takes a rather straightforward suspense setup and rips it to shredds by essentially putting a slasher anti-hero in the room with eight slasher villains and letting them work out their problems directly.

It helps that Cage showed up with another one of his WEIRD performances to make the film somewhat notable. His “turn” as an Ash-style insane anti-hero isnt given any context or backstory so it doesn’t actually build anything into the narrative of the setup but he operating almost entirely on charisma. It’s amusing watching this beer swilling, pinball playing vigilante do his thing.

Nic Cage is easily the best aspect of the film.

I won’t say I don’t find that perversely fascinating. I love schlock films and Nic Cage’s recent career turn as a bad-s**t insane maniac in films like Mandy and Color Out of Space has been a career highlight.

The performance is made all the more weird by the fact that Cage doesn’t have a single line of dialog in the entire film. He’s operating his performance entirely at the level of physicality and somehow OWNS it! It’s dumb but he OWNs it!

Willy’s Wonderland isn’t much to actually write home about. As the RedLetterMedia guys pointed out in their review, the film mostly exists to astroturf a cheaply made cult-FNaF knockoff into commercial success. I didn’t find it boring but there’s nothing to work with in the film. There’s no real story, the performances surrounding Cage are horrible and the film looks incredibly cheap.

It’s, at best, a forgettable novelty.

Published by Tyler Hummel

Editor-in-Chief at Cultural Review, Regular Film Critic for Geeks Under Grace, Published at ArcDigital, Rebeller, The DailyWire, Hollywood in Toto, Legal Insurrection and The ED Blog, Host of The AntiSocial Network Podcast

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