Anyone that’s been in the gaming sphere in the last decade knows about Five Nights at Freddy’s. Whether it’s playing the anxiety-inducing jump-scare riddled game or watching a Let’s Play and laughing at the player’s suffering or falling down Mat Pat’s Game Theory channel. Everyone knows the premise of Five Nights. A player takes a job at a Chucky Cheese Knock-off and must survive 5 nights as the animatronics try to kill you. A simple yet successful concept that’s spun off into a multi-game franchise that has the earmarks to make a transition into a different medium. Like maybe a movie?
Well, a movie has been in the works for years. It was picked up by Warner Brothers back in 2015, got Christopher Columbus (Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, Home Alone) to Direct and write in 2018, and in November of 2020, an update was published saying filming would begin in Spring of 2021. But then in January of 2021, the world was greeted by a trailer that seemed like a copy of Five Nights. With one noteworthy exception, Nic Cage. Welcome to Willy’s Wonderland.
The story begins with a creepy opening to set the hellish atmosphere, watching a young couple are gruesomely dispatched by something. But then the opening sequence beings with montage shots of Nic Cage driving in the backwoods of Georgia. His car runs over a spike strip that destroys his tires. After getting a pick up from his toe truck he discovers that the repairs are cash-only, but is offered an ultimatum. Clean up a rundown family restaurant overnight and his repairs will be paid for.
To avoid spoilers I won’t explain the movie progression, but I will say the explanation for the animatronics story. The original Willy’s Wonderland was owned by a serial Killer and satanic cult. Rather than being arrested they performed a satanic ritual and sacrificed themselves, transferring their souls to the animatronics. The animatronics then kill anyone who threatens the building. So the town made a deal with the devil by feeding Willy any strangers.
The movie also features a young woman named Liv (played by Emily Tosta). Liv has been trying to destroy Willy’s for years only for the Sherrif to stop her. But now she and her friends set out to free a trapped Nic Cage and burn down the hellhole. But nothing goes as plan, especially when Nic Cage is involved.
It’s hard to say more without spoiling it. The story is simple and at times feels like they didn’t try harder. The story is wholly unique and does stand out, but it also feels like they didn’t try to challenge much. It follows multiple troupes that are predictable, except with Nic Cage’s character. But overall the story seems to be inspired by Five Nights and Cabin in the Woods.
Willy’s Wonderland has a wide visual field it uses. There are many moments that seemed to be inspired by Edgar Wright movies. There are extreme close-ups, unique use of angles, and quick cuts on objects. There are also sequences with strobe lights, so anyone that is photosensitive needs to be aware.
This film also features more stylized lens flairs than J.J. Abrams’s entire filmography. I honestly don’t know if the flairs added more to the scenes. It was like they tried every lens, lens trick, and visual effect that messed with focus, flairs, and everything else. So there are times when it’s just more of a headache because it’s too much.
Now visual effects and special effects were amazing. There sequences where the line between a real character and a computer-generated model was blurred, but they’re also times where it very apparent. The film wasn’t shy about showing the gore and violence of the crazy story either as Nic Cage was coated in oil-blood so many times.
The production design needs to be praised. Each animatronic looked amazing and you could tell a lot from their looks. The restaurant was also a great character in this story and was utilized perfectly.
Willy’s Wonderland is a weird movie. While it is in the horror genre, it’s also so different. Like I said earlier it seems inspired by both Five Nights and Cabin in the Woods. So I guess it’s self-aware horror, so it’s ok to laugh at. But as of the time of writing it’s only available on demand. So $20 is a bit much for a one-time solo viewing, but it could be a fun movie for a watch party. Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5. It’s a simple story and predictability makes it very bland, but Nic Cage does make another unique performance.