Prisoners of the Ghostland gets off to a wild start. A stark white building is filled with people dressed in bright colors. Nicolas Cage bursts into what is revealed to be a bank. He has an armed with a shotgun and has an accomplice with a pair of large handguns. An armed robbery commences ending with a pair of guns aimed at a toddler.
Making its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Siro Sono’s first English language movie follows Hero (Cage) as he tries to rescue The Governor’s (Bill Moseley) granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella). In order to do so, he must free her from the cursed Ghostland. Plus, he only has five days to do it or the leather suit he has been given will explode.
Prisoners of the Ghostland never gets away from its ridiculous premise. The movie is filled with fantastical moments and characters. From a character named Ratman who is an adept mechanic to the strange sing-alongs the townspeople will break out into, the entire experience is a surreal one. There is something unexpected being thrown at the audience with each scene.
The mix of Eastern and Western sensibilities give the film an interesting look. There town has the look of an old cowboy movie. Toward the end, there is even a nice homage to the original Django. Prisoners of the Ghostland also blends in the look of classic samurai films. This includes gushing fountains of blood and slowly falling leaves from cherry blossom trees. It is visually impressive.
Sono’s film has a very cinematic quality to it. There are large set pieces overflowing with color. The settings and costumes are otherworldly and the action is brutal and fast paced. This is a movie that would look right at home on the big screen. A strange offshoot is the lack of character development. Prisoners of the Ghostland is content to keep its characters as broad archetypes.
Those expecting to see Cage’s wildest performance yet will probably not be disappointed. Of course, it is all subjective as to where this will rate on each person’s Cage Rage list, but Prisoners of the Ghostland is filled with over the top moments. Cage provides some of the best visuals of his career and his revelation to a group of people about losing a part of himself is a highlight of the film.
Narratively, there is a lot going on in Prisoners of the Ghostland. Unfortunately, most of it is hard to follow. The Governor seems to be the unquestioned ruler and everyone seems to adore him. The people of the Ghostland are trapped there due to some sort of curse, but it is not explained very well. There is too much going on. This is not helped by the fact that everyone seems to speak in their own language (or have someone speak for them) and an extended flashback/dream sequence right in the middle of the film.
Ultimately, none of this will turn audiences away from the movie. If anything, it will add to batshit crazy feel of the entire thing. Nowadays, movies that star Cage have a certain expectation. Having a well crafted story that encourages deep discussion is not at the top of that list. Prisoners of the Ghostland is a wacky action movie that will confound fans until the very last shot.
Continue to check out AIPT for our ongoing coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.
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