Prisoners of the Ghostland

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Prisoners of the Ghostland
dir Sion Sono
scr Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai
prd Michael Mendelsohn, Reza Sixo Safai, Laura Rister, Ko Mori, Nate Bolotin
with Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya, Young Dais, Koto Lorena, Canon Nawata, Charles Glover, Cici Zhou, Louis Kurihara
release US/UK 17.Sep.21
21/Japan 1h43

boutella moseley cassavetes
Fright fest

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Prisoners of the Ghostland
Heavily stylised, this bonkers action horror is set in a colourfully dystopian version of Japan crossed with the Wild West and populated by an international cast of quirky characters. Sudden explosions of action, violence and song keep the audience on its toes. Director Sion Sono playfully indulges in outrageously overwrought imagery, sets and costumes, creating a deranged comic book-style atmosphere that feels far too haphazard to fully come together.
In the rough-and-tumble Samurai Town, the wealthy Governor (Moseley) pulls a violent criminal (Cage) out of jail and tells him he must find and rescue his missing granddaughter Bernice (Boutella). Forced to wear a high-tech leather suit that's rigged to self-destruct in three days, this unnamed antihero heads out into the Ghostland, where people are enslaved to the establishment. But even when he finds Bernice, freeing her from the cursed captivity of the Ghostland isn't remotely straightforward. So perhaps he'll need to lead a revolution to free everyone from the Governor's oppressive tyranny.
As this man embarks on his mission, he has a series of wild encounters with people who seem to have very little power over their lives. Frequently knocked unconscious for a variety of pretty horrible reasons, he is haunted by dreams of his outlaw past, most notably a bank robbery that went horribly wrong because of his trigger-happy cohort Psycho (Cassavetes). Meanwhile, crowds of people shout out the story of a larger mythology involving nuclear waste and time itself. This offers a few moments of intrigue but only becomes vaguely meaningful.

Cage adds a witty swagger to his role, playfully subverting the usual action-hero posturing with a casually dismissive attitude, blunt approach and random jokes. Even if she doesn't say much, Boutella has a vivid presence as Bernice, observing everything carefully while dealing with her own nightmares. Dressed in white, Moseley's Governor is a slimy, privileged, relentlessly cruel baddie. More interesting is Sakaguchi as his faithful, conflicted henchman Yasujiro.

Not much about the narrative is coherent, as many of the scenes and characters feel random, stubbornly complicating rather than clarifying the madcap events. Of course Sono creates several spine-tingling moments along the way, and stirs a larger sense of redemption into an odyssey about a bad man trying to set right both his own crimes and the sins of humanity. This adds a soulful undercurrent to the flashy violence and endless nuttiness. So in the end it's surprising how much we care.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall