Nicolas Cage and Sion Sono are a great team given a not-so-great script.
As soon as the rumours surfaced of a Nicolas Cage collaboration with Sion Sono for the director’s first English language film, the internet was overjoyed and bursting with anticipation. Arising around three years ago, some wondered if said rumours would ever become a reality. However, 2021 saw the perfect zany match of Nicolas Cage – one of cinema’s most brutally underrated performers – and oddball Sion Sono, whose films are always quite surreal and borderline on cartoonish.
Prisoners of the Ghostland certainly lives up to the expectations in terms of pure craziness. Whilst the pacing isn’t as fast or relentless as some may expect (surprisingly some even seem disappointed in its conntent), we do see Nicolas Cage search for a lost young woman and redemption through an apocalyptic wasteland, whilst being strapped into a leather one-piece suit rigged with explosives (Remember how some people didn’t think this film was zany enough?).
The main positives here are undoubtedly Sono’s visual style and the way Cage bounces off of it. Director-actor chemistry is rarely so deeply felt considering that one half of the duo hides behind the camera, but there’s a genuine sense of a shared vision in Prisoners throughout. The widescreen cinematography of Sono-regular Sohei Tanikawa also adds to the film immensely, giving it a distinct look bursting with colour and life. And if you ever wanted to see the director of The Notebook appear in a minor performance as a ruthless bank robber… this is the film for you.
The film’s one major downside is the unshakeable feeling that a lot of the weird parts simply exist for the sake of being weird. Given the abilities of those involved trying to be provocative just to stand out can’t help but feel like a cheap cop-out. This may be due to the pressure of Prisoners being Sono’s first English-language film and his knowledge that this film will likely be his most widely-seen to date, but at some points the nature of how the stranger elements are portrayed often feel false and forced in context with the rest of the film’s world.
Overall, it is a mixed bag. Far from perfect, mainly due to a sense of laziness in the writing and a lack of that special spark that could have easily seen this become a cult hit as beloved as the recent Nicolas Cage feature Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018), Prisoners of the Ghostland is a solid film that is mostly watchable thanks to Cage’s ability to always be entertaining and charismatic. The short runtime matched with the reasonably fast pacing helps, too, as does the colourful cinematography which is full of movement. If you have ever wanted to see Nicolas Cage riding a push-bike in a leather suit rigged with explosives, this is a must-watch, but if not then it may be worth skipping and opting instead for one of Sono’s better films.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is distributed by XYZ Films, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below on YouTube: