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‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ review: Dir. Sion Sono [FrightFest]

by Kat Hughes

Nicolas Cage is an acting institution that needs no introduction. The actor began his career being known purely for being the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola. His career built up quickly and as the Academy nominations flooded in, the connection to Coppola was lost. Cage spent the seventies and eighties starring in some genuine cult classics, before switching to play the action hero for much of the nineties and noughties. For the last decade Cage has entered his most interesting phase of his career with him seemingly saying yes to projects no matter how crazy they seem. With no project deemed too over-the-top, audiences have seen him cross into a Hell dimension to save his beloved, take part in a fighting competition against an angry alien, and even do battle with sentient amusement park mascots. Now comes one of his strangest movies, Prisoner of the Ghostland, in which he has to face off with ninjas, samurai, and ghosts as he tries to track down a missing young woman. 

Those worried that Cage might be about to start getting super serious again after having viewed Pig can rest easy knowing that this is one of the actor’s most bonkers movies ever. Don’t worry, he hasn’t lost his edge and once more plumps for any incredibly wacky and zany character that feels like a fusion of Mad Max and Dorothy Gale. His performance forgoes the intricate intimacy of his work in Pig to channel his inner badass once more. The promised ghosts sadly remain metaphorical, but there’s plenty of Cage rage on show as he does battle with numerous foes. Fans of that Mandy toilet scene will be very pleased with an instance here where he just screams test-i-cles as loud as he can. 

Prisoners of the Ghostland marks the first venture into English language film for Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, and is a story of East meeting West in more ways than simply the director changing language. From the outset, Prisoners of the Ghostland plays out within a cinema playground that looks like a heady mixture of Memoirs of a Geisha, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and a Rob Zombie grindhouse movie. Don’t try too hard to decipher exactly what is happening, doing so may drive you mad as Sono seems content to drift from scene-to-scene without ever tying much together. Cage’s character ends up hiding out on the periphery of society, but it takes a while for any exposition to materialise that explains what has happened to the world or these characters whom he is living amongst. When it does appear, it’s too little too late as by this point the viewer has either resigned themselves to the insanity or given up entirely. Time also seems to have no meaning despite Cage’s character having to complete his mission to a deadline. In total he has five days to complete his challenge, but the days quickly bleed into one another and all concept of the ticking clock that should be important is lost. 

What Sono has spent his attention on is the aesthetic of Prisoners of the Ghostland. The director has always been known for his visual flair, but here he has used the bigger budget that a name like Nic Cage brings to a project to create a fantastical playground. The environment, settings, and locations all look stunning. The setwork is particularly impressive with Sono birthing this wonderfully weird post-apocalyptic version of Earth. The land of the outcasts is a wasteland wonderland that captures attention and offers a nifty little distraction from the confusing plot. A lot of thought has gone into the appearance and construction of each and every character, no matter how small, and the costumes are a large component of this. Everyone we encounter has an eccentric look to them, once more being a blend of Mad Max and The Wizard of Oz. Strange bedfellows, but ones that works well to create this visually led piece of art. 

Undoubtedly beautiful to look at, Prisoners of the Ghostland is a little thin on plot. Luckily for Sono, he has Nicolas Cage at the forefront of the project, his involvement alone will be enough to satisfy many. This is a wonderfully insane film that feels like a disjointed psychedelic fever dream. 

Prisoners of the Ghostland

Kat Hughes

Prisoners of the Ghostland


Cage adds another title to the ever expanding strange side of his resume with this gorgeously constructed, but slightly baffling, tale of East meets West. 


Prisoners of the Ghostland was reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2021. Prisoners of the Ghostland will be released in UK cinemas and on digital platforms on 17 September. 

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