The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND

prisoners of the ghostland review
In a post-apocalyptic frontier, a convict is tasked with rescuing a young woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sion Sono

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavettes, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya

prisoners of the ghostland poster

Has Nicolas Cage finally paid off his infamous debts? His recent career choices would suggest so. Having spent much of the 21st century appearing in any old schlock for a pay-cheque, Cage seems to have refined his choices in the past couple of years to the sort of movies he's naturally drawn towards. This year we've already seen him headline two very different movies in Willy's Wonderland and Pig, but both see him play taciturn characters and both feel destined for future cult status.

Now Cage is working with a filmmaker that seems the most natural fit for his talents since he worked with David Lynch all those years ago. Japanese director Sion Sono has made some of the weirdest movies of the past couple of decades, so Prisoners of the Ghostland should be a match made in heaven.

prisoners of the ghostland review

Cage has described Prisoners of the Ghostland as "The wildest movie I've ever made," which is quite a claim. It's surprising then to find upon watching Sono's film that it's remarkably generic and derivative, little more than a poorly-conceived melding of samurai cinema with John Carpenter's Escape from New York (or perhaps, given its cartoonish tone, Escape from LA is a more fitting comparison).

Cage is a Snake Plissken stand-in simply known as Hero. After spending several years behind bars for a bank robbery that resulted in multiple deaths when his partner in crime (Nick Cassavettes) got an itchy trigger finger, Hero is sprung by the governor of Bank City. He's enlisted to find and rescue the governor's grand-daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who has seemingly been kidnapped by the bandits that live in the wastelands beyond the city. Just as in Escape from New York, he's fitted with a device that will kill him if he fails to comply and complete the task. In this case it's a full body suit that will blow off his balls if he gets any amorous ideas about Bernice.

prisoners of the ghostland review

If it seems we're set for an Escape from New York knock-off, the plot quickly seques into Mad Max 2 as Hero finds himself unwittingly coming to the aid of a small community that has been living in fear of the governor. Don't expect any of the road rage of the Mad Max films though, as bafflingly, there's an entire montage of trucks getting rigged up only for the movie to forget to employ them.

Prisoners of the Ghostland often feels like Sono is throwing a lot of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. In its small details it's visually inventive, like the villagers who spend all their time pulling on a rope attached to the second hand of a giant clock in the belief that doing so prevents time from moving forward. The production design is striking in its East meets West mashup of the Old West and feudal Japan. There's a well choreographed sword duel in the climax, a reminder of how Asian filmmakers have a more natural affinity for this sort of action cinema than most of their western contemporaries.

prisoners of the ghostland review

But Sono's film just never kicks in. Even Cage seems lost here, though it's hard to think of another American actor you could cast in this role. After a fun introduction that caters to Cage's unique physical tics, Hero becomes a rather dull protagonist. He's outshone by Bill Moseley as the governor. A veteran of genre cinema, Moseley gets a meaty introduction here that allows him a rare moment in the spotlight. It's reminiscent of Michael Parks' great turn in the otherwise awful Kevin Smith thriller Red State. Like that film, Prisoners of the Ghostland plays like a movie that's been purposely assembled in the hopes of one day being declared a cult favourite. That's a misguided way to make a movie, as filmmakers can't make cult movies, only audiences can.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is on UK DVD/bluray from November 15th.

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