Prisoners Of The Ghostland (2021)

Rating: **
Review Date: 11/29/21
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Tak Sakaguchi

"Pay your taxes or die like a dog."

You really have to wonder what goes on in director Sion Sono's head. His films are totally bonkers and completely incomprehensible, so teaming up with Nicolas Cage is a perfect fit. The governor of Samurai Town recruits the notorious criminal Hero (Nicolas Cage) to rescue his granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from the Ghostland, which is supposedly haunted and/or cursed. He's fitted with an explosive suit that will detonate in three days if he doesn't find her. It will also detonate if he gets sexually aroused or threatens her in any way. The governor promises Hero freedom upon his return, but we all know that's a big fat lie. The rest of the film is a wild fever dream as Hero attempts to bring Bernice home and has to fend off the bizarre denizens of the Ghostland along with some actual ghosts. Maybe? It's totally unclear what the hell is going on in the movie and what it's all supposed to mean. Not surprisingly, the film ends with a big fight scene as Hero attempts to even the score.

The cinematography and art direction are gorgeous, and the film is visually stunning to watch. The juxtaposition of Eastern and Western motifs is jarring and makes no sense, but it's the kind of madness I would expect from Sono. The Ghostland is a post-apocalyptic wasteland born of a nuclear disaster, but it's not clear if both Samurai Town and the Ghostland are a unique microcosm or quarantine zone in an otherwise normal and contemporary world. Only a handful of characters speak English, while the rest of the film is in Japanese. Again, it's a bizarre juxtaposition of Eastern and Western styles and talent. Unfortunately, the pacing is dreadfully slow and the film's weirdness quickly becomes tiresome and annoying. Nicolas Cage gives a solid performance and actually made me burst out laughing at one point. Tak Sakaguchi is wonderful as the governor's stoic bodyguard, and it's always a treat to see him in action. However, the biggest highlight is when Sofia Boutella unexpectedly erupts into violence, because evidently everyone in Japan is an expert sword fighter. It's breathtaking to watch. The film is purposely vague and off-balance, which is a detriment. With tighter pacing and less craziness it might be more entertaining, but as it is, I just found it confusing and dull.