Prisoners Of The Ghostland Review

Prisoners Of The Ghostland
Imprisoned bank robber The Hero (Nicolas Cage) is recruited by an evil town governor (Bill Moseley) to find and return his AWOL granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a wasteland in return for his freedom. The catch? The Hero has three days to it. Oh, and his testicles are wired to explosives.

by Ian Freer |
Updated on
Release Date:

17 Sep 2021

Original Title:

Prisoners Of The Ghostland

It’s perhaps not surprising that this collaboration between Japanese iconoclast Sion Sono and Coppola-spawned maverick Nicolas Cage is stone-cold crazy, a post-apocalyptic samurai Western man-on-a-mission movie. Making his mostly English-language debut, Sono, the cult director behind Tokyo Tribe, Why Don’t You Play In Hell and Love Exposure, seems like the ideal partner-in-crime for Cage, both talents happy to swing for the fences in wild tonal shifts and off-the-chain outrageousness. It’s just a shame, then, that their union can’t channel their go-for-broke attitude into something even vaguely coherent and dynamic.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland

It starts as it means to go on. Cage is The Hero — perhaps a second cousin to Tenet’s The Protagonist — and we meet him bursting into a bank, wielding a shotgun and shouting, “BANZAI!” at the top of his lungs. Imprisoned, he is sprung from jail by The Governor (Bill Moseley), the white-suited boss of (the highly stylised) Samurai Town who needs a favour: his gaggle of geishas, including his granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella), have skipped town and now he wants them back. But — to quote Han Solo when the TIE Fighters arrive — this is where the fun begins. For starters, The Hero is forced to wear a leather bodysuit that’s sewn with explosives and primed to “recognise the impulse of a man willing to strike a helpless woman”. But more excitingly, the bombs are stitched to his nuts to stop him playing with the Governor’s property. And you don’t have to be a screenwriting guru to know that if Nicolas Cage has a bomb tied to his balls near the start of Act One, it’s only a matter of time before his gonads are goners.

Completely in sync with Sion Sono’s madcap sensibility, Nicolas Cage is fully committed.

It’s a solidly set-up premise. The Hero takes off to the wasteland next door, where the post-apocalyptic denizens literally turn back time (Cher would be proud) by doing tug-of-war with the hands of an outsized clock. It’s around this point where Prisoners Of The Ghostland starts firing off in all directions with little rhyme or reason, pulling in such bizarre ingredients as a clan of scavengers known as The Rat Family, a Greek Chorus of dancers, Wuthering Heights, and a Hiroshima allegory. Just at the point where The Hero is seen as the messianic figure who is going to lead the ragtag band of mutants and urchins (all looking like refugees from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) against the corrupt Governor, it finds even more weird tangents to dissipate the momentum.

Still, it’s worth it for some cool fights, Sono’s imaginative filmmaking, Boutella, and Yuzuka Nakaya as The Governor’s other granddaughter, who do their best to ground the bonkersness and, of course, Cage. Completely in sync with Sono’s madcap sensibility, the actor is fully committed, be it heading on his mission on a little girl’s bicycle or shouting at the top of his lungs, “If you’d told me three days ago I’d be standing here with one arm and one testicalllllllllllll…” as a way of geeing up the masses. It’s hardly, “I’m Spartacus.” But, as a knowing rejoinder to Prisoners Of The Ghostland’s madness, it’s priceless.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland is by turns brilliant and rubbish. Cage is in his element, it has visual invention to spare, and the fight scenes are fun, but it’s a shame such imagination is tethered to equally all-over-the-place storytelling.
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