FrightFest 2021 Review: ‘Prisoners Of The Ghostland’ Features Nicolas Cage At His Absolute Craziest
Starring Nicolas Cage, Bill Moseley, Sofia Boutella
Directed by Sion Sono
Nicolas Cage delivers an impressive performance in Prisoners of the Ghostland, an outlandish samurai western from director Sion Sono, who you may know for films such as Suicide Club, Tag, and The Forest of Love. Sono’s English language debut is a truly bizarre and outlandish film that will soon achieve cult status, and not just because it features Cage delivering a speech about having one of his testicles blown off.
The plot takes place in the not-so-distant future in a world ravaged by an apocalyptic catastrophe. Cage stars as the ironically named Hero, a bank robber whose latest heist resulted in the death of a child. After being captured by the authorities, Hero is offered a chance at redemption. He must venture into the heart of a dangerous and forbidden territory known as the Ghostland. There, he is to rescue Bernice (Sofia Boutella), the kidnapped adopted granddaughter of the region’s Governor (Bill Moseley). To ensure Hero fulfills his task, an explosive harness is attached to his manhood and is set to detonate unless deactivated by Bernice’s voice. Another is fitted around his neck and programmed to explode unless he returns with her to the aptly named Samurai Town in three days. Sadly for Hero, Bernice fails to deactivate the lower harness in time, and his testicle goes bye-bye.
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It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that Cage clearly has a great deal of fun with his role. He plays a man who initially only cares about his own freedom, but soon fights to right the wrongs of his past. At first, Hero is a man of few words. But, he gradually became more boisterous and unhinged as the film progresses. It culminates in a scene where he screams about having one of his testicles blown off while delivering a rousing speech to help prepare the residents of the Ghostland for war against the Governor.
Moseley is an actor who has been on our radar for many years. His seminal portrayal of Otis Driftwood in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses trilogy being a particular delight to horror fans. Since he usually stars in small indie productions, it was great to see Moseley now appearing in something more high-profile alongside an A-lister like Cage. He creates a particularly memorable villain with the Governor.
While not quite as openly psychotic as Otis, here we have a character who is still not afraid to use brutal violence to get what he wants. He also wears a flamboyant white suit and loudly sings “My Grandfather’s Clock” along with the residents of Samurai Town, for no other clear reason than he felt it was time for a song. Like most of Moseley’s best characters, the Governor is ruthless and unpredictable, and that’s what viewers will love about him.
This is a world entirely unlike our own as it takes place after a post-apocalyptic event. We are constantly reminded that the world on screen is clearly not intended to resemble reality. While there are a few explicitly supernatural elements, the stylized lighting and the surreal set designs make Prisoners of the Ghostland feel like a fantasy. They give the film an eerie and dreamlike quality which creates a stark contrast against the brutal violence committed against those who call this world their home.
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Since most of the sets seem like they came straight from a historical epic, it can be easy at times to forget that this actually takes place in the future. This is made even more confusing with the addition of a bizarre subplot about the residents of the Ghostland wanting to somehow stop time. This was not explained particularly well. But, in a film as crazy as this, it’s probably best not to ask questions.
It’s also difficult to tell if Prisoners of the Ghostland was going for a serious or comedic vibe. Seeing Nicolas Cage riding a child’s bicycle through a Mad Max-style wasteland was something clearly intended to make us chuckle. It’s less clear, though, if we were supposed to laugh at him facing a crowd wearing a sumo wrestler’s mawashi, which resembles a giant diaper. Then, there’s some particularly haunting imagery on display. In one scene, Hero discovers that a row of female statues is actually living women covered in plaster and remaining completely still and motionless. This moment conjured up memories of Roger Corman’s cult classic A Bucket of Blood.
While it was tonally uneven at times and featured some plot strands which made little to no sense, Prisoners of the Ghostland was still an engaging and visually intriguing film featuring unforgettable performances from Nicolas Cage and Bill Mosely. Even if you find the plot to be hard to swallow, the gorgeous visuals will still offer plenty for your senses. Prisoners of the Ghostland is bound to become a cult classic in due time. Plus it features Cage at his absolute craziest, making it one of the most unique and memorable films of 2021.
Fans of cult cinema have probably always wanted to see Nicolas Cage and Bill mostly starring in a film together, and Prisoners of the Ghostland certainly delivered on this front. While it was somewhat tonally inconsistent and featured some bizarre plot threads, this was still a visually exhilarating film with memorable performances from its lead cast and some truly unique set pieces, making it a hugely enjoyable viewing experience which is likely to become a cult classic.