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September 16, 2021


written by: Aaron Hendry and Rexo Sixo Safai
produced by: Nate Polotin, Michael Mendelsohn, Ko Mori, Laura Rister & Rexo Sixo Safai
directed by: Sion Sono
rated: not rated
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: September 17, 2021 (Music Box Theatre)


At this point anything with Nicolas Cage should be seen just to see what level of Cage-isms he’s dropping. Sure, you expect him to kind of go over-the-top and that can definitely be a fun ride, but in he can still deliver Oscar worthy performances like his latest turn in the recent “Pig”. But, that’s just one of three releases this year for the actor and his role in the apocalyptic Western tale “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is more along the lines of the type of outright crazy we hope for in a Cage flick. He’s teamed up with Japanese auteur Sion Sono (“Tokyo Vampire Hotel” and “The Forest of Love”) here, who’s known for his idiosyncratic choices and creates a strange and enigmatic atmosphere that almost upstages our main man.

When a bank robbery goes awry after multiple civilian casualties, the criminal Hero (Nicolas Cage) is thrown into the slammer in Samurai Town, while his partner, Psycho (John Cassavetes) is carted away to another prison. Hero awakens in his prison wearing a loin cloth, haunted by what transpired and is brought before The Governor (Bill Moseley), who oversees the town’s geisha brothel, keeping close tabs on all his many “granddaughters”. When one of them, Bernice (Sofia Boutello), goes missing after grasping at a chance for freedom, she finds herself trapped in the mysterious Ghostland that surrounds the town.



Determined to retrieve her, The Governor drags Hero out and fits him with a leather jumpsuit that’s rigged with explosives that will detonate under specific conditions in an effort to force him into returning Berniece to him. Hero is given three days to bring her back unharmed with any possible deviation leaving him permanently maimed. Once in the Ghostland, Hero must contend with a past that haunts him and a discarded community in a strange supernatural wasteland while trying to keep his head intact.

It becomes evident from the onset that much of “Prisoners of the Ghostland” isn’t really supposed to be understood. Sono is set on creating a bizarre world of bold colors and rich textures that vacillates between the bloody robbery of Hero’s recent past and the craziness that surrounds Hero on his forced mission. The robbery could’ve been over and done with, but Hero’s appropriately named partner winds up losing his cool and blows everyone away, including a little boy standing in front of a gumball machine.



Once Hero goes from criminal to prisoner and into a messed up “Escape from New York” situation, the whole thing really gets nuts. Once Hero zips up the black leather outfit he’s given, it activates the explosives (little orbs that light up pale red) that are around his neck, on both forearms and two on his crotch, one for each testicle. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie and you can guarantee some of those explosives detonate, especially when they are designed to go off if he threatens Bernice or makes any kind of sexual advances towards her, even if he seemingly thinks these things. Now don’t try and figure out how the white-clad Governor has rigged all this in such a way.

It takes a while for everything to fall into place and get going, with screenwriters Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai taking their time with set-up and exposition, while Sono and his impressive production department work on the impressive world-building. It becomes a mishmash of samurai swordsman and gunslinging lawman, amid an oppressed people that live in a Thunderdome type environment. Thankfully, Hero immediately finds Bernice after leaving Samurai Town, and then has to navigate his way through time-worshippers and threatening strangers in an effort to deliver her peacefully back to The Governor.

Inevitably with Cage, there are laughs to be had and much of that has to do with his body language and unintentionally hilarious action moves that are reminiscent of latter day Steven Seagal. In the second half of “Prisoners of the Ghostland”, Cage does get chance to elevate to full-on Cage, specifically when a couple of those explosives go off and when he gives an exasperated motivational speech to the Ghostlanders. In a story with dreamlike imagery and nuclear fears, it’s welcome to see Cage gleefully get into the groove you expect him to shift into.



Trying to figure out the machinations of Samurai Town is a lost cause. There are soldiers and lunatics (and a confusing backstory for a master swordsman played by Tak Sakaguchi) loyal to The Governor for some reason. It’s never really explained where in the world Samurai Town is or how The Governor came to be in his authoritative position and after a while no one really cares since they’re just waiting for Cage to let loose. On that note, since former dancer Sofia Boutella is known for her previous physical roles (in movies like the “Kingsman” movies, “Atomic Blonde” and “Star Trek Beyond”), we’re kind of waiting to see if her character will be given something action-oriented to do. That won’t happen until the last few moments of the movie when Bernice seeks vengeance for her the own imprisonment, but before then the connection between Hero and Bernice is one of two prisoners silently and knowingly relating to one another.

Some may step into “Prisoners of the Ghostland” thinking it will be a horror movie or a straight-up action flick, only to find it uncannily becomes an artful offering from Sono. The viewing experience could’ve been a predictable slog to endure without Sono’s visual gifts which wind up being quite captivating and mesmerizing at times. Cage is committed here and is a fitting epicenter for the delirious and often meandering material that offers something different from your typical post-apocalyptic nightmare.






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