Prisoners of the Ghostland

For those who thought Nicolas Cage was beginning to enter subdued, calm, veteran-actor mode with his acclaimed recent performance in Michael Sarnoski’s Pig, here comes Prisoners of the Ghostland — a gung-ho gonzo fest that immediately lets us know that ain’t what’s happening with this crazy sumbitch.

Prisoners is the latest Cage film that’s just as batshit-insane as he is. Set mostly in some dystopian town where samurai and gunslingers mingle and ball-busting geishas linger, the movie sees Cage as a jailed criminal who’s called on by The Governor (Rob Zombie regular Bill Moseley) to track down his adopted granddaughter (onetime Dark Universe baddie Sofia Boutella). Cage’s character, billed simply as Hero, has to wear a leather suit equipped with several explosive bubbles — including two right at the genitals — set to go off if he gets too handsy, too excited or simply fails at his mission. 

Yes, this movie is nuts. And it comes right out of the gate nuts. When there aren’t whole scenes featuring characters explaining what the hell is supposed to happen, characters are chanting, singing or doing some other weird shit. It even takes a while for Cage to ramp up and match the wildness of the movie, which he does once certain body parts begin to be obliterated. 

Prisoners is the English-language debut from director Sion Sono, who has been doing similarly wild-ass films in his homeland of Japan for several decades. (This is the man who gave us 2001’s Suicide Club and 2017’s Tokyo Vampire Hotel.) As Japanese genre filmmakers are prone to do, Sono — along with screenwriters Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai — melds several genres in one with Prisoners. When Cage is in The Governor’s land (aka Samurai Town), it’s a straight-up samurai Western, with men drawing swords and six-shooters, kind of like Sono saw the last half of Kill Bill Volume 1 and turned it into an attraction at Universal Studios. When Cage ventures out into desolate, dusty territory, it’s more Mad Max Lite, filled with grungy folks covered in spiked gear, surrounded by beat-up cars and bracing for a hellish apocalypse.

As much exposition as this movie drops, I still don’t know exactly what the hell happens. Of course, Cage’s character takes his hero’s journey as he aids those dingy outcasts in their battle against the obviously corrupt Governor. It’s just hard to tell how the dude got to that point. (Hero does have a couple of epiphany-filled dreams after some body parts get destroyed.)

Sono works so hard in making everything madcap and bizarre that he never quite thinks about reining things in. By the time Hero is greeted by his old psychotic partner-in-crime (Cage’s Face/Off co-star Nick Cassavetes) — a ghost killed during a road accident involving toxic waste — you may find yourself like, “Whatever, dude, I’m too crazied-out to care.”

Thankfully, Sono throws in some sick showdown sequences. Even so, Prisoners of the Ghostland may be too extra for your tastes. It’s a good thing Cage is around to navigate the crazy along with us.

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