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Prisoners of the Ghostland (Review) Sundance

Prisoners of the Ghostland (Review) Sundance
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Sundance film festival 2021

PLOT: In a strange place called “Samurai Town”, a notorious criminal (Nicolas Cage) is placed in a booby-trapped leather jumpsuit and sent into the mysterious Ghostland to save the abducted daughter (Sofia Boutella) of the town’s despot ruler.

REVIEW: Last night, Prisoners of the Ghostland, which is the English-language debut of Japanese director Sion Sono, made its virtual world premiere as part of this year’s online Sundance Film Festival. I had a running chat with a couple of other online bloggers as this film unrolled, with Travis Hopson (known as the writer-narrator of our own Reel Action on JoBlo Videos) messaging me about a half-hour in - “this shit is wild”. Former JoBlo employee Paul Shirey, who’s also my erstwhile podcast co-host on The Beard and the Bald sent me a similar message, asking “what even the f**k is this movie?” My answer to both of them: “I wish I had some drugs.”

prisoners of the ghostland Nicolas Cage

Indeed, this is a movie that may well benefit from the ingestion of certain mind-altering substances (done responsibly of course). Watched stone-cold sober, Prisoners of the Ghostland is more often than not tedious, even if it’s visually stunning with some committed, gonzo performances sprinkled throughout. It’s yet more evidence that star Nicolas Cage isn’t afraid to “go there”, with him giving another thoroughly entertaining, unhinged performance as this movie’s answer to Snake Plisken. Although, instead of missing an eye he’s missing…something else…which becomes one of the film’s goriest and best gags later on.

One thing Prisoners of the Ghostland is not is conventional. If you’re expecting anything even relatively straight-forward, this isn’t for you. Similar in a lot of ways to Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, this is endurance cinema, with the post-apocalyptic future setting a drugged-out nightmare. It took me at least half of the film to even get close to being on its same wavelength.

That said, I would have expected nothing less from Sion Sono. This a wacky mash-up of genres, most significantly post-apocalyptic action, western and samurai, and Cage is probably the only guy who could have done it justice. Playing a crazed bank robber, Cage spends the movie wired up in an explosive leather jumpsuit, pulling kung-fu poses while yelling and screaming. He’s sending himself up, and he’s the film’s greatest asset alongside the neon-drenched cinematography by Sohei Tanikawa and the legitimately amazing musical score by Joe Trapanese.

prisoners of the ghostland Nicolas Cage

As the woman he’s sent to rescue, Sofia Boutella is striking and seems in on the joke with Sono, although by design she’s a lot more restrained than her co-star. Bill Moseley gives Cage a run for his money as Samurai Town’s diabolical, white-suited, red gloved cowboy overlord, while Tak Sakaguchi is cool as his laconic bodyguard. Director Nick Cassavetes also has a cool role as Cage’s former partner in crime, appropriately named “Psycho”. It’s a throwback to the kinds of roles he used to play in movies like The Wraith and Face/Off before becoming better known as the sensitive director of gentle movies like John Q and The Notebook.

Whether or not any of this sounds like a good time to any of you readers is the big question, making a movie like Prisoners of the Ghostland hard to rate. Quite honestly, after about an hour I was more or less ready for it to end. I don’t know that I enjoyed it, but I also didn’t hate it and I’m glad I watched it. That’s faint praise to be sure, although I’ll admit that had I saw it drunk or stoned at a midnight screening in an actual theater, this would probably be a very different (and much less coherent) review. Take that how you will.

Source: JoBlo.com

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