Prisoners of the Ghostland (15) | Home Ents Review

Dir. Sono Sion, US, 2021, 103 mins

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley

Review by Colin Dibben

Crazy Nicolas Cage in a post-apocalyptic western with added samurai swordplay? It sounds brilliant. But maverick Japanese director Sono Sion doesn’t really deliver the goods.

Stetson wearing Governor (Moseley) of Samurai Town gives a nameless, jailed bank robber (Cage) a chance to redeem himself. The criminal must journey into the wastes of the Ghostland and bring back Governor’s adopted grand-daughter Bernice (Boutella).

Cage’s character has five days to complete the task. If he isn’t back by then, the kinky black leather suit he wears will explode.

How did Prisoners of the Ghostland get so boring? The story sounds like trashy cinema heaven, the sets are pretty bonkers – perhaps a bit low budget, but that’s not necessarily a problem – and Cage and the other lead actors get lines they should relish chewing their way through on the way to the scenery.

Oddly, though, even Cage’s signature wild moment – “I am radioactive!” – has a restraint to it. It’s not Mandy or even The Color out of Space.

The problems relate to pacing and framing.

The shots are too long and too slow – there’s even a lot of pretty pointless slo-mo early on. The effect is weird: the drama is sucked out of the whole film, and even the finale doesn’t feel like a dramatic climax.

Sion chooses to focus on the scale and the spectacle of his story, to the detriment of the frenzy suggested by the meeting of Cage and Sion and the story itself.

Sion is so keen on taking the wider perspective that there’s not much room for the histrionics of any individual actor. He films groups of people, crowds, dancers making ritualised movements – all of them pulsing out of the background and supplanting the leads.

The ritualised aspect of the film is highlighted by Sion’s use of choruses in both Samurai Town and the Ghostland community.

It’s a strong, intentional approach but, oddly, it gives the film a static feel.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is one of those films where rationalising the director’s choices constitutes most of the fun. It is intriguing as an object of intellectual exercise; when it should have been a riot from start to finish.

Trailer:

Prisoners of the Ghostland is out on DVD and Blu-ray from 15 November