Nic Cage with bombs strapped to his sensitive bits
PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND (2021)
Have you ever watched Suicide Squad (either one) and wished had Nic Cage with bombs strapped to his sensitive bits instead of at the base of his skull? Well, look no further, because I have that film right here alongside a serving of samurais!
Being the first predominantly English-language film directed by Sion Sono, Prisoners of the Ghostland blends together the history of Eastern and Western cinema in its visuals, but not so much in its narrative. From the subtle but distinct nods in its settings and costumes to Mad Max (which, admittedly, made me think of Power Rangers RPM as well), to the set design of one particular location to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, to even some of the cinematography and editing mimicking the works of Akira Kurosawa and Bruce Lee.
Sion Sono knows his movies and knows how to entertain for the most part. Beyond the casting, which I will go into a bit later, this film knows how to have fun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t think it needs to be as fun as it actually does. A large portion of this film drags its feet by being serious throughout, then transitioning from those moments to silly ones that feel much more genuine and original. Though still a solid viewing, I think this could have benefitted by being a comedy.
The plot makes no sense, but it’s okay. Here’s the gist: Nic Cage is a vicious bank robber who’s hired to find a rich man’s daughter. Cage has to wear a suit that has bombs strapped to various parts of it (including two in the sensitive area) and only three days to bring the daughter back. Throw in a curse that needs broken, a cult, and some legit samurai action and there you have it!
It’s not a meaningful story and, like I mentioned in the previous segment, the pacing tends to stop and take itself more seriously than it needs to, but it’s an entertaining story nonetheless.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Nic Cage and Sofia Boutella steal the show here by being allowed to give an unhinged performance. When the film gets wacky, these two step up to make sure you know it’s wacky. From Cage’s exaggerated shouts and screams to Boutella’s deathly glares, everything works when it tries to have fun. The supporting cast varies in quality and Bill Moseley hams it up so much that it feels like he’s actually Doug Dimmadome from The Fairly Odd Parents. It’s a mixed bag, but in a glass-half-full way.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
I’m not sure what the budget was on this film, but it seems like it was just shy of being able to fully realize the director’s vision. The sets are well-made and designed, the blood effects are awesome combined with smart camera, lighting, and editing tricks, but the wardrobe looks cheap. The supporting casts that have Mad Max-style clothing look like minor villains out of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. That said, the visual effects themselves and the violence is top notch given what I hope are limitations.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Though I don’t have much to say on the score, the sound is well designed. The editing is very rough in the non-action sequences, but the quality of the dialogue and ambience bring those sequences to life and keep you engaged. Sound is half the film: Most people are more willing to watch a film with bad visuals but good sound than a film with good visuals and bad sound. It seems the people behind this film knew this and it works in their favor.
This film could have definitely benefited in leaning into more of its comedy. That said, Prisoners of the Ghostland never feels like it’s suffering from an identity crisis. It’s a film that seems like it was made for the fun and love of filmmaking and, honestly, I think this may get a cult following because of that.