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Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) – Review: Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage Give the World a Unique New Hero

September 27, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B+ Prisoners of the Ghostland is not for everyone, but if you are a fan of Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage, you will love this movie. Be prepared for exploding testicles, gonzo filmmaking, and inspired cinematography by Sôhei Tanikawa. 

When it was announced that Nicolas Cage (who between Willy’s Wonderland and Pig is having an excellent 2021) would be starring in a movie directed by Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Love Exposure, Suicide Club, Tokyo Vampire Hotel), cinephiles started drooling because it meant the world would soon see a glorious product created by two unique artists. The good news is that Prisoners of the Ghostland is wonderfully fun, and despite some last minute changes after Sono had a heart attack during pre-production, it still lives up to the hype. 

While the 4.3 IMDb Score might scare you away from Prisoners of the Ghostland, just know that if you can embrace the tone and style, you will be rewarded with an engrossing tale about a guy named Hero (Nicolas Cage), who is recruited to rescue Bernice (Sofia Boutella), the adopted “granddaughter” (AKA sex slave) of a warlord named The Governor (Bill Moseley – chewing every piece of scenery), who runs a post-apocalyptic town named Samurai Town. The movie kicks off with a botched robbery that involves Hero, and his partner-in-crime Psycho (Nick Cassavettes – AKA the guy who directed The Notebook) slaughtering unlucky bank patrons, and blowing up hundreds of gumballs, during a terribly planned robbery. After the slaughter, Hero is arrested, stuffed in a self-detonating suit, and forced to rescue Bernice, who escaped into the Ghostland, a wasteland loaded with crazed outcasts, who are obsessed with time. Hero is given five days to save Bernice (it’s a fun homage to Escape From New York), or his suit will blow up his testicles, arms, and eventually head, if he fails, or threatens Bernice in any manner. It would be a shame to spoil the rest, just know that it involves toxic waste, abandoned towns, collapsed humanity, and lackadaisical plotting.

What’s beautiful about the movie is that it’s about a guy named Hero, who goes on a journey. It’s a cheeky idea, and gives Cage a chance to really stretch out the word “testicle.” The production design by Toshihiro Isomi is beautiful, and his Samurai Town creation is a marvel of Japanese architecture, neon lights, and cowboy hats. Also, the Ghostland feels believably ghostly with a combination of smoke effects, broken down cars, and a gigantic clock. The cinematography by Sôhei Tanikawa (a frequent Sono collaborator) is excellent, and he’s at his best inside The Governor’s gaudy residence, which is loaded with warm lights, bright colors and more cowboy hats. Overall, the entire package looks great, and despite a low budget, manages to punch above its weight (which isn’t a surprise).

If you are looking for a fun cultural mashup that fuses together multiple genres, it doesn’t get much better than Prisoners of the Ghostland. Also, don’t let the Nicolas Cage quote about it being “The wildest film I’ve ever made” set unreal expectations. Yes, it’s wild, but if you don’t know about Sono as a filmmaker (This is in no way his most wild film…), you might expect an Americanized-bonkers fest. It’s not that, it’s a surreal, somewhat violent tale of redemption, that features a fun combination of Cage and Sono sensibilities.

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