Prisoners of the Ghostland Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Elysian Film Group
Directed by Sion Sono
Written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai
2021, 100 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on 15th November 2021
Nicolas Cage as Hero
Sofia Boutella as Bernice
Nick Cassavetes as Psycho
Bill Moseley as The Governor
Has there ever been a more natural convergence of director and movie star than Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage? The Japanese auteur teams up with the American icon to create this gonzo post-apocalyptic Western. Nic Cage is ‘Hero’, a legendary bank robber and badass, sprung from jail by a crime boss known as ‘The Governor’ (Bill Moseley). With the Governor’s granddaughter missing, Hero is tasked with finding and returning her. To make sure he behaves, Hero is strapped into a booby-trapped biker suit, rigged with bombs. Yes, like some kind of… Suicide Squad.
Following a run of grizzled badasses and unlikeable antiheroes in Willy’s Wonderland, Primal and Mandy, Cage is in familiar territory here. Still, the man never gives the same performance twice (anyone who could accuse the actor of repetition would be well-advised to seek out his Pig) and his turn as Hero is carefully modulated to suit the film’s needs. This is far from your ‘typical’ unhinged Nicolas Cage performance, and he’s not the only one going off the deep end. That said, his exclamation of the word 'testicle' is one for the ages, and worthy of its own A History of Swear Words segment.
In addition to everything else that’s going on, Prisoners of the Ghostland also offers the showdown of the century in Nicolas Cage versus Bill Moseley. As Samurai Town’s lecherous warlord, Moseley delivers his best character work since The Devil’s Rejects. He brings an entirely different kind of energy to that of the Cage, but the thrill of seeing the two genre giants interact is undeniable. But with Cage and Moseley chewing on the scenery – and each other, out – what sort of world could ever sustain them?
The world outside of Samurai Town is fairly standard post-apocalyptic fare – Mad Max: Fury Road, with a Gilliam-esque visual twist – the dissident people a bunch of psychopaths, misfits and outcasts. And, as a psychopath, misfit and outcast himself, it’s little wonder that Hero soon begins to question his mission.
Much of Sono’s Cage-handling policy seems to be to just wind the actor up and let him go, and so the story is almost incidental at this point. There are big plot points that the film has to get through, but they come and go with a surprising lack of weight. The clock is ticking for Hero, but no-one else really seems to care. Sono cycles through the story’s necessaries – finding the girl, flashbacks to Hero getting caught, big revelations – but is more interested in the visuals and Cage’s performance than finding any emotional resonance. Even Bernice’s (Sofia Boutella) emancipation from her grandfather feels almost perfunctory, as though Sono is just going through the motions to get to the good stuff.
But what glorious chaos it is. Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai’s wry screenplay serves its cast well, giving Moseley plenty of swearing to do while peppering the action sequences with amusing absurdisms. “So cool,” a character notes in awe, as a crowd watches Hero flee Samurai Town on a comically under-sized bicycle. “Banzai!” Hero screams, as his way of initiating a violent bank robbery – later threatening to ‘karate-chop’ anyone who comes near. Frankly, it’s worth the price of entry for Cage’s testicle alone.
Everyone else may be left slightly bemused by all of this, but fans of Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage will not be disappointed. Prisoners of the Ghostland is the mighty meeting of minds that the world never even knew it needed.
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