Prisoners of the Ghostland 2021 Movie Review
With hindsight, we should have known that a collaboration between Nicolas Cage and the dashingly eccentric Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono was only a matter of time. Yet now that “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is here, it seems equally apparent that doubling the weirdness can, for the audience, produce ten times the head-scratching.
The partnership should have been sublime. And maybe if Sono had written the script himself (as he often does, perhaps most movingly in his 2011 treatise on upskirt photography, “Love Exposure”), this sunbaked samurai western might have made a lick of sense. As it is, Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai’s story is so busily demented that Cage seems at times uncharacteristically muffled. To play Hero, a reprobate tasked by a white-suited warlord (Bill Moseley) to retrieve the warlord’s missing granddaughter (a persuasive Sofia Boutella), Cage spends most of the movie in a leather suit studded with strategically placed explosives. Should Hero harbor impure thoughts toward his quarry, his gonads will be goners.
Crammed with mugging extras and chanting geishas, scrabbling mutants and ambulant mannequins, “Prisoners” can slide in an instant from haunting (a disfiguring mask slowly peeling from a woman’s face) to circuslike. Sono’s visuals, sizzlingly realized by the cinematographer Sohei Tanikawa, lack neither brio nor imagination. But the ludicrousness of the plot severs any emotional connection to a story whose apocalyptic stylings (the Ghostland of the title is a nuclear wasteland) gesture toward Japan and America’s painful history. In light of which, Hero’s eventual sacrifice of a single testicle seems an entirely negligible forfeit.