Sion Sono (director)
17 September 2021 (released)
21 September 2021
I have no way of knowing for sure but I’d guess that Nicholas Cage is reasonably happy with his current career trajectory. A prolific actor he has one of the most varied portfolios of anyone working at the moment. Take the latest pair: the sublime beauty of Pig where he gives one of his finest performances in recent years, and Prisoners of the Ghostland which had a showing at FrightFest and is now on general release. The latter is an oddity to say the least.
We open with Hero (Nicolas Cage) and his sidekick Psycho (Nick Cassavetes) robbing a highly stylised bank using great violence in Samurai Town. Then we see three women making a bid to escape the place egged on by rows of caged women. We then switch to Hero now a prisoner dragged out to meet The Governor (Bill Moseley) who makes him a proposition that he can’t turn down because he’s forced to don a black leather jumpsuit covered in explosives. They will detonate if he gets too violent with women or doesn’t complete the mission, including two strategically place between his legs. His mission is to find and return his granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) who was one of the runaways.
This requires Cage to journey out into the Ghostland. Offered a car he takes a bicycle in a scene that could be right out a Children’s Film Foundation movie as he rides off, though he does take the car later. From there he’s on a strange adventure into a land that has been scarred by a nuclear accident leading to people developing some strange beliefs. An example being preventing a huge clock from striking the hour should it set off a catastrophe.
Sion Sono’s English language debut (written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai) is frustrating on a number of levels, the main issue being the utter confusion of genres, medieval Japan, westerns, post-apocalyptic, heist movie all here sewed together using boxing gloves. You get the feeling this is a knowing mess though these types of film can generally get away with the archness if they can at least keep some level of attention.
And that is the main problem in that it doesn’t for very long as around midway in the Ghostland things start to go awry as Hero meets weirder and weirder characters. There’s a languidness to it when it should have been shifting on the momentum created earlier; tedium sets in as we get flashbacks to the robbery and the truth of what happened.
What can’t be denied is how wonderful if all looks with some marvellous sets and actions scenes. But it’s just far too superficial and not enough to prevent the eyelids drooping.