Director: Sion Sono
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes, Tak Sakaguchi
Run Time: 103 mins
The combination of Nicolas Cage and cult Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono may seem like a peculiar grouping but both never shy away from attempting to shock and surprise their audiences. As well as a meeting of both talents, Sono’s English language debut, Prisoners of the Ghostland, is set in a future dystopia reminiscent of Mad Max relocated to the east.
Nicolas Cage plays ‘The Hero’ who has been imprisoned for an attempted bank robbery in Samurai Town and is released to complete a task for the ‘Governor’ (Bill Moseley). He must rescue his ‘granddaughter’ (she is one of his favourites at a brothel that he runs) called Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who has escaped with three other women. He instructs Cage to zip up a leather jumpsuit that he hands him to wear, which is rigged with explosives, one at each arm, two by his neck and one for each testicle. It’s a bonkers scenario that is very fitting of Sono and Cage more than suits this type of out-there role. In fact, Cage has ramped up audience expectations by stating that this his ‘wildest role yet’.
Cage has experienced a career resurgence lately, with two excellent performances in Mandy and Color Out Of Space. When he is paired with the right material, he is fantastic. He also recently frontlined the drama film Pig, which many feel is a revelatory turn for the actor but I found the film and Cage’s performance unwatchable, although I realise I’m in the minority.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is certainly a strange beast and it is a reasonably entertaining film, particularly in its opening and final acts. Its central concept is compelling, as are some creative fight sequences interspersed in the film. Cage gives a typically committed performance and suits the outlandish rule. Sono crafts some visually arresting images that have burned into my memory and there is also a bombastic score by Joseph Trapanese.
However, the film is all over the place tonally and is quite unfocussed at times, bordering on incoherent. As much as Sono leans into the ludicrousy of the situation that Cage finds himself in, at the same time, he takes two steps back with sustained silliness in the script and a slow pace with expository waffle. The script is not particularly deep or meaningful and the film fails to fully embrace its genres or themes – it never fully embraces the iconography of the Western and it never leans into its horror or samurai influence.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is good fun at times but the pairing of this director and actor should have been something really special rather than merely bordering on ‘good’. I’m glad the film exists and it is certainly a step in the right direction for Cage, although if you want to experience a wild ride, both Mandy and Color Out Of Space remain my top picks.