Film Review: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Nut bombs and Samurai swords


I could probably just leave it there as a giddy hand-clapping, dancing, rapturous and apt summation of the new Nicholas Cage ‘movie’* (*experience) under the steerage/vision of the prolific Japanese cult director Sion Sono. Much like when I first properly discovered Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky via the incredible documentary ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ (2013), where I was effectively human cannonball blasted down the rabbit hole of a visionary I had only seen mention of (he was John Lennon’s favourite director), or brief clips/photos of his repertoire. I’ve since of course resolved that, and Jodorowsky is now one of my all time favourite directors.

Again with Sono I knew a couple of his titles (Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Tokyo Tribe) more than having actually seen his work, though I had noted to  dive in at some stage. That leap begins now.

‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ 2021, even if Nic Cage wasn’t in it, has Nic Cage written all over it. The definition of cult himself, where the concept of shying away is never on his rider list. Though, having said that, his recent portrayal in ‘PIG’ (2021) is wonderfully restrained and shows an aspect of Cage’s career performances we’ve not seen in some years.

Ghostland is in keeping with the glee seeking missile that seems to be the objective of what gets Nick’s jets blasting of late. Maybe Cage is, in reality, more in tune with his character Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s ‘Wild at Heart’ (1990) than we might ever realise, where he’s never more in his Zen glory than the feral frenzy of a mosh pit, firing like a sun in a pinball machine, where it can both nourish and incinerate you.

Cage jumps into Ghostland in what effectively a whirling mash-up pit of genres. A cursory jump into Sono’s catalogue often shows a hyper-stylised, colourful world fuelled by intensity, manga/anime and pop culture. Ghostland runs katana point on all these fronts creating a beautifully realised world/production that is part Samurai, cowboy, Kabuki theatre, Mad Max, Escape From New York, Death Race 2000, The Dukes of Hazzard, Metropolis, musicals, and seemingly most of the sci-fi/cult films I repeatedly rented from my local video store in the 80s. To say I’m the target audience for this mind melting glory is an understatement to say the least. From the second I saw the trailer, I was already climbing onto the stage to crowd surf the screen madness.

Cage plays Hero, an incarcerated bank robber in a post-apocalyptic land (caused by a prison bus crash into a nuclear waste truck of course), that as mentioned is a gorgeous blend of neon Samurai, cowboy and desolation. The monied/corrupt world is represented by Samurai Town, run by The Governor (Bill Moseley truly on par with Cage), a nasty bit of work, exemplified all the more by his Boss Hogg/Dukes of Hazzard pure white suit.

The Governor owns an enormous red-light district brothel, and some of his ladies (granddaughters) have skipped town, escaping to hopefully a better world. But he wants one back in particular, namely Bernice (Sofia Boutella, who is sadly not given more run to enjoy the madness), and offers Cage freedom in return for hunting her down and bringing her back to servitude. Naturally of course The Governor makes Cage wear a black leather suit with testicle bombs to keep him focused on the task.

Ultimately that’s it really, but as with the best of things, it’s all about the journey, and my what a trip that is, often feeling like a literal trip, where somehow Sono has induced LSD visions and hallucinations in the safety of or seats, where things often don’t make any sense whatsoever, but its truly inspiring, and utterly unique nonetheless.
From the pristine, musical/theatre performance that is Samurai Town, to the ravaged wastelands of Ghostland, there are so many things of brilliance on show (concepts, sets, costumes, score, cinematography, general madness in a cast of hundreds), that only someone evil would fault it’s ambitions, but there is the slight issue that it doesn’t really hit the bullseye. It’s somewhat incoherent (I missed a few of the plot points/metaphors after reading upon it after), could have been cut down a bit, and it’s truly unfortunate Boutella’s character wasn’t given more to shine as much as Cage/Moseley do.

It might not hit the bullseye, but I do LOVE the idea of just blowing up the board instead too, and Ghostland does it with aplomb. And as for Cage, Cage is ALWAYS brilliant, though gives one of his most enjoyable performances of late, embracing outlandish intonations (it’s worth it for his speech about his balls alone), and employing some of his best Elvis inspired King-Fu we’ve seen in a while. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s dumb, it’s beautiful. And of course, I can’t wait to swim in the rainbow whirlpool that is Sion Sono’s other films, I hope this entire team bring more mind tripping ventures to our screens again very soon.

8/10 Prisoners of the Ghostland is out in cinemas now.