Prisoners of the Ghostland

12/14/2021 11:53

Film: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Year: 2021

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella and Nick Cassavetes



This was a movie that I planned on seeing at the theater, but I couldn’t make the times work. When I saw that it came to Shudder, I then decided to watch it there. I did hear some mixed reviews on it, so I was curious how this would be. It worked out as an interesting double feature on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast. The synopsis is a notorious criminal must break an evil curse in order to rescue an abducted girl who has mysteriously disappeared.

For this movie, most of it is taking place in Samurai Town. There is also another name for it, but I didn’t write it down. It is run by the Governor (Bill Moseley). We get to see a scene of Hero (Nicolas Cage) along with his partner Psycho (Nick Cassavetes) as they rob a bank. There is this child that is offering gumballs and Psycho aims his gun at this boy. Hero does what he can to prevent this.

Coupling with this we have Bernice (Sofia Boutella) trying to flee the town. She is being aided by geishas and her friend Susie (Yuzuka Nakaya). In order to get out, they need to ensure that the guards are taken care of. They don’t seem to get far though as something happens to them.

That is when the Governor calls Hero before him. He is fitted into a leather suit that has bombs attached to the arms, neck and genitals. These bombs will go off he tries to strike a woman, if he gets fresh with one or he tries to remove the suit. He has five days to get Bernice and bring her back to the Governor, or he will die.

This begins the journey into what is dubbed the ghostland. We see monstrous man that was killed. It appears he was a notorious criminal and now he is holding everyone prisoner there. He has an army of mindless soldiers and even what looks to be samurais. Hero will do whatever he can to save Bernice and break this curse before it is too late. The real question though, who is the real villain here?

Where I want to start then for me actually breaking down the movie is that I did see part of the trailer for this when Jaime and I went to the Gateway Film Center. This movie is visually stunning and I knew that from what I saw. It is quite interesting as well as there is a lot of allegory and referencing that we are also getting here. The imaginary is well done by director Sion Sono as well. I was braced coming in that this was going to wild and it doesn’t disappoint there. Not necessarily in the way that I was expecting though.

The first thing that I should get into is that this movie is paying homage to westerns and the basis for those movies, the samurai tale. We are combining them in an interesting way. I’m not overly versed in westerns and I have not seen much in the way of the samurai films either. I do know that westerns adopted the nameless hero from this sub-genre and from Japan. It is a direct reference here that Cage’s character is named Hero. Much like you’d get in westerns, he’s a flawed character and this is a redemption tale for him. We are also getting a lot of traditional ideas mixed with more modern ones. The Governor is white. He is ruling this town as a capitalist. I can see that in westerns since the richest guy usually did run things. Yasujiro (Tak Sakaguchi) is a samurai forced to be his bodyguard due to Susie or at least that is what she believes. Plus we have Sheriff Takato (Takato Yonemoto) and Deputy Shin (Shin Shimizu) who provide the Governor almost an army of cowboys. The other things that struck me here were the amount of geishas while it still feeling like a western town. It is an interesting blend with the style of architecture of Japan. I found this to be visually interesting.

There is also some intriguing social commentary here. I’ve already alluded to this movie speaking out about capitalism. Hero and Psycho are poor so they rob a bank. The Governor is controlling this town with money. He is a villain from the beginning. I like that this movie is trying to blur the lines of good and bad. Hero killed people, but he does what is right. The Governor and Psycho are worse. We are never getting that they’re good, but I would say that the Governor does come off neutral in the start. The movie is able to be subtle with this to the point where you can ignore it if you’d like.

The other commentary is the idea of nuclear power. It would appear this movie is speaking out against it along with the use of weapons. There was a power plant that melted down and how the waste was being stored caused problems. This again goes back to capitalism as well. I’m assuming this is in part to what happened to the nuclear plant quite a few years ago that melted down as well as the bombings from World War II. The demon that is holding everyone prisoner in the ghostland was affected by the toxic waste causing him to become what he has. This has vibes of The Toxic Avenger with this idea as well.

I believe with that I’ve broken down the story enough. Where I should go would be how this is all conveyed. We have some beautiful shots here so I’ll give credit to Sono along with the director of photography, Sôhei Tanikawa. Together they are able to convey some things with showing us. There is a dream like feel to this and almost like a surreal take as well. There are many times I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t. Going along with this would be the effects. We don’t get a lot here which surprised me. What we do looked to be practical for the most part from what I can remember. The blood we do get looked good. This movie does get wild as it gets to its climax for sure. Aside from that, I’d say the soundtrack fit for what was needed. We get the atmosphere of being in a Japanese town while also mixing in some tracks that worked for the scenes.

Then the last thing will be the acting. Nicolas Cage is an interesting actor to me. I think he is good, but he needs the right director. I think that for the most part Sono was able to rein him in. He does over act a bit out there that didn’t work for me. Boutella is an actress I’m not overly impressed with. I thought she was okay here. Cassavetes was good as Psycho. He fit that role. I love how over the top Moseley plays his role. He seems like a villain from the beginning. Sakaguchi was solid along with Young Dais and Nakaya. I think the supporting cast was good for what was needed.

In conclusion here, I was a bit let down by this movie if I’m going to be honest. I tried to temper my expectations, but it is hard when most things I’ve seen from Sono I have liked. That’s not to say I hated this, because that’s not the case. I enjoyed the references to westerns and samurai films, even though I’m not as versed in them as I should be. I thought that Cage over acted and I’m not high on Boutella, but the rest of the cast worked for me. The cinematography for this movie is amazing. I thought that the soundtrack fit for what was needed as well. The commentary under what we are seeing also worked for me. I’d say that this is still an above average movie despite my issues.


My Rating: 7 out of 10