Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)

Prisoners of the Ghostland
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Young Dais, Charles Glover, Cici Zhou, Louis Kurihara, Tetsu Watanabe, Takato Yonemoto, Shin Shimizu
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 25.9.2021

Content Note: child sexual abuse (alluded to), misogyny

After his granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) disappears, the Governor (Bill Moseley) turns to desperate measures to find her. He frees a notorious criminal and turns him Hero (Nicolas Cage), though not without precautions to ensure his compliance. Thus the Hero makes his way to the Ghostland where Bernice is suspected to be. The Ghostland is a dangerous place, and the Hero has his work cut out for himself.

Prisoners of the Ghostland didn’t work in the slightest for me. Way too shrill and loud, way too little sense. If I hadn’t been sitting right in the middle of my row, I probably would have left early. As is, I napped here and there but I should have just stayed away entirely.

The film poster showing the Hero (Nicolas Cage) standing atop a giant warrior helmet with skulls, other people and a huge clock that seem almost part of the helmet.

When the program for the festival was announced, I thought long and hard whether I actually wanted to see this film. Neither Nicolas Cage nor Sion Sono are that much my cup of tea. Ultimately, pragmatism in planning won out and I ended up in the film anyway. But I probably shouldn’t have. It’s definitely not the film for me.

I will admit that it has some very strong images. And I found the fusion of Japanese and American Wild West aesthetics quite intriguing. but also a little alienating because pretty much all the female characters who get a bit more to do are Asian, except Sofia Boutella who comes really close to yellow-facing. Most likely because almost all the women in the film are sex workers and/or abused. The though process here seems to be that all women are sex workers and all sex workers are geishas (it’s not quite as simple as that, there are some women who get a different role, but that’s the overall impression I was left with).

Bernice (Sofia Boutella) standing next to the Hero (Nicolas Cage).

But most of all, the problem was that I got the distinct impression that Sion Sono doesn’t speak English well enough to direct a film in English. The performances were atrocious (with the exception of Tak Sakaguchi, a welcome island of blissful competence), and the worst offender was Nicolas Cage. And I know that he built a reputation for himself in recent years that his overacting is simply his method, and part of his cult appeal, but Prisoners of the Ghostland is what happens when is entirely off the leash and it’s not good at all. It is funny at times, though. But really not good enough to make the film worth it.

The story is also nothing to write home about. When it makes sense, it’s a classic and rather boring redemption arc. When it doesn’t make sense, it’s a little boring, despite all attempts to hide its weakness in weirdness. It soon looses all steam, and I was glad to finally fall asleep, at least for a little while.

The hero (Nicolas Cage) in a fighting stance, surrounded by people who look about ready to attack.

Summarizing: no, thanks, this just doesn’t work.

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