Starring Nicolas Cage as its protagonist, "The Janitor," Willy's Wonderland is a 2021 comedic horror film directed by Kevin Lewis, from a screenplay written by G.O. Parsons. This film was suggested to me by my best friend for consideration in a routine movie streaming night, with the premise accurately described as "John Wick is an autistic janitor who brutally destroys the animatronic monsters from Five Nights at Freddy's, because they keep interrupting him while he is trying to clean the restaurant and play pinball during his breaks."

The Janitor is a nonverbal drifter (Cage actually included in his contract for the part that his character was to have no spoken lines whatsoever) whose well-maintained classic muscle car breaks down in a remote small rural town after driving over a police spike strip on the road, placed there by the local sheriff to trap travelers in the town. The Janitor is offered free maintenance to repair his car, in exchange for cleaning up the rundown family entertainment center "Willy's Wonderland," which resembles real-world FECs like Chuck E. Cheese, as well as the fictional Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza found in the horror game Five Nights at Freddy's (2014), which shares the same fundamental premise of a night worker (a security guard, in the case of the game) trapped in a dangerously haunted FEC.

Over the course of the Janitor's single night in the restaurant, he successfully gets the place cleaned up with incredible efficiency, despite being interrupted frequently by cursed animatronic puppets, who are haunted by the restaurant's former owners and his friends, who performed a Satanic cult sacrifice in order to make themselves immortal. The townspeople have spent decades appeasing the haunted puppets by sending unsuspecting outsiders into the restaurant to feed them, in exchange for the puppets remaining inside the restaurant and not breaking out to murder local residents.

Each time the Janitor is interrupted in his work, or has some already-cleaned section of the restaurant set into disarray again by one of the puppets, he demolishes the offending puppet with ruthless, hilarious ease, seemingly annoyed by them and not at all afraid of them. Each time he finishes killing a puppet, he changes into a clean uniform shirt, washes his hands fastidiously, and gets back to work. He also obsessively takes regular breaks, drinking a can of "Punch Pop" soda, while he first cleans and repairs, and later plays, a pinball game found in the break room of the restaurant. The Janitor's work efforts are further complicated by a gang of local teenagers who break into the restaurant in an attempt to rescue him from what they believe to be certain death. The Janitor conveys irritation at their presence, rather than gratitude, because they add to messes he had just cleaned up.

The Janitor's adherence to routines, his special interest in the pinball game, his overly literal interpretation of instructions, and his complete lack of verbal communication, all suggest to the viewer, without disrespecting or disparaging the neurotype, that the Janitor has an autism spectrum disorder; teen and adult members of online autistic communities have spoken favourably about the film, appreciating that such a clear and non-exploitative example of autism is found in a heroic, competent depiction, in a film which is both comedy and horror - genres which historically have depicted people with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and divergent neurotypes in disrespectful or exploitative ways, or as innately evil or helplessly incompetent.

Willy's Wonderland is hilarious, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys horror relating to clowns, mannequins, ventriloquist dummies, or isolated small towns. I especially recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Cabin in the Woods (2011) or the Five Nights at Freddy's game. Nicolas Cage's acting in this film is flawless, presenting the unfrightened exasperation of the Janitor in ticklish contrast against the panic of the other human characters and the gleeful malice of the animatronics.

Iron Noder 2021, 30/30

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