A Nicolas Cage/Sion Sono collaboration was always guaranteed to produce something wonderfully and recklessly absurd. Set in a surreal, post-apocalyptic, steampunk universe, the storyline for Prisoners of the Ghostland is bold and simple: a notorious outlaw (Cage) is released from incarceration, zipped into a bomb-rigged onesie and sent to the ‘Ghostland’. He has two days to rescue the Governor’s granddaughter before his suit detonates. All that stands in his way is an unearthly dust bowl colonised by lost souls and tormented spirits.
As expected, the world Sono builds is irresistibly engrossing and overwhelming, reminiscent of the dark and stunning dystopias captured in the likes of Escape From New York, Apocalypse Now and the more recent Mad Max: Fury Road. This, of course, is courtesy of the director’s myriad influences. From samurais and gunslingers, all the way to radioactive spectres, junk-spangled cyborgs and haunting choruses sung behind hypnotic choreography, the Ghostland’s aura and visual splendour is undeniable.
What this dreamscape lacks, however, is pace and substance. Cage, despite his recent success in similarly strange and fearless pictures like Mandy and Willy’s Wonderland, is more passive observer than feral protagonist. The plot and character backstories feel like a device to project this world, rather than a driving force to strengthen it. The result, sadly, is a narrative that never appears to shift out of first gear.
Prisoners of the Ghostland might disappoint Cage and Sono fans (especially if you’re expecting Tokyo Gore Police levels of depravity), but there are still fleeting flashes of chilling brilliance. There is also the obligatory ‘Nicolas Cage meltdown’, which is always worth the price of admission.
Reza Sixo Safai
Reza Sixo Safai
CINEMA & DIGITAL
17 September 2021