Earlier this month, Nicolas Cage declared he is “never going to retire from acting”. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a promise or a threat. Regardless Cage has definitely found himself amidst a career resurgence courtesy of embracing some gonzo roles. Critics praised Cage’s performance in Michael Samoski’s Pig, which came out this past summer. Cage’s willingness to star in, well, just about anything, has also seen him pop up in some surprisingly fun genre fare. Both Mandy and Color Out of Space were trippy psychedelic horror movies that have already earned cult followings. Neither Mom and Dad nor Willy’s Wonderland are classics, but they’re both fun to varying degrees. For now, we’ll ignore the Ghost Rider movies. Now Cage is back with a bomb rigged to his testicles in Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland.
In the quarantined, ravaged Samurai Town, a ruthless warlord, Governor, rules over the people. He’s created a world subject to his own musings – a combination of feudal Japan and the Wild West. And he forces young women into his own personal harem, calling them his ‘granddaughters’. When Bernice, one of these slaves, escapes into the “Ghostland’, Governor frees a violent bank robber, Hero, offering him freedom in exchange for returning his ‘granddaughter’.
Prisoners of the Ghostland Looks Good Even If It All Makes Little Sense
Much of the effort into writing this review was put into the above synopsis. And to be perfectly honest, I had to look up many of those plot points. Simply put, Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai’s screenplay isn’t just gonzo – it’s almost incomprehensible. For some people, Prisoners of the Ghostland will be wonderfully incomprehensible. Others may find themselves completely lost in what’s admittedly a creative and wild world. Even if you’ve watched a fair share of dystopian movies, you’ve probably never seen anything quite like Prisoners of the Ghostland. Still you’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone that you got that much out of the movie’s story. Yes, Prisoners of the Ghostland fuses together neo-noir, Westerns, samurai movies, and dystopian subgenres into something completely unique. Just don’t expect to understand much of the basic plot. Prisoners of the Ghostland is meant to be experienced, not understood.
For some people, Prisoners of the Ghostland will be wonderfully incomprehensible. Others may find themselves completely lost …
But as a viewing experiencing, Sion Sono’s feature is certainly unique. The eclectic Japanese filmmaker crafts several eye-popping scenes. Oftentimes you’ll need to pause the movie just to pick out and appreciate some of his attention to detail. If the story itself isn’t always moving forward, Sono ensures the screen is always busy. Everything here feels as eccentric as George Miller’s post-apocalyptical world of Max Max did 40 years ago. Of course, none of this means Prisoners of the Ghostland is entertaining. In addition to a plodding pace, the movie is often a silly mess that feels like it’s trying to too hard to be quirky.
Prisoners of the Ghostland Finds Nicolas Cage in an ‘Explosive’ Performance
Amidst the movie’s bizarro world, Nicolas Cage once again finds himself front row and center in a eccentric, gonzo role. And for the second time in 2021, Cage plays a character with no real name – he’s credited as Hero – after playing ‘The Janitor’ in Willy’s Wonderland. However, in Prisoners of the Ghostland, Cage actually has dialogue, which he chews along with the scenery in the kind of performance that earned him Razzie nominations for The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, etc. Yet somewhere along the lines everyone finally got in on the joke. Audiences want to see Nicolas Cage go ‘Full Cage’. And Prisoners of the Ghostland suits Cage up in a bomb-rigged leather jumpsuit before proceeding to blow off one of his testicles. That’s something that actually happens in the movie.
However, in Prisoners of the Ghostland, Cage actually has dialogue, which he chews along with the scenery …
Joining Cage in Prisoners of the Ghostland are a handful of familiar B-movie faces as well as Asian stars who fans of Japanese cinema may recognize. As Governor (and no, not The Walking Dead’s ‘Governor’) Bill Mosely (The Devil’s Rejects, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) turns in a reliably slimy performance as the movie’s villain. Ryuhei Kitamura (Downrange, The Midnight Meat Train) alum Tak Sakaguchi is the movie’s quiet MVP. That is, Sakaguchi has a presence that makes him one of the best things in the movie. Though Sofia Boutella (The Mummy) has plenty of creentime, it never really feels like she has much to do in the movie. You’ll also find Nick Cassavetes, Charles Glover, and Lorena Kotô in small, off-the-wall roles.
Prisoners of the Ghostland Not Quite ‘Balls to the Wall’ Fun
In some ways, a review of Prisoners of the Ghostland is pointless. This is a movie expressly made to be strange and inaccessible. It’s this inaccessibility that will likely appeal to those who enjoy it. Still there’s no denying that the movie feels like that unpopular kid in class trying really hard to get everyone’s attention. While Sono’s genre mash-ups are ambitious and the visuals stunning, Prisoners of the Ghostland is unnecessarily incomprehensible. And for a movie that blows off one of Cage’s testicles, it’s often a boring movie. Some people will live. Others will hate it. No one is likely to be ambivalent about it.