I stopped trying to understand Nicolas Cage’s movies a while ago. Instead, I decided to experience them as you should. Well, teaming him up with director Sion Sono for the neo-noir western Prisoners of the Ghostland proves to be as idiosyncratic as expected. Let’s say that you’ve never seen a film like this, nor are you likely to again. In fact, when Cage is the tamest person on screen, it speaks volumes about the gonzo nature of the production.
On the surface, the plot for Prisoners of the Ghostland seems straightforward enough. A bank robber (Cage) is sent by the Governor (Bill Moseley) to rescue his adopted granddaughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who is stuck in the mysterious and supernatural Ghostland. Strapped into a leather suit that will destruct in three days, the bandit is in a race against time to save Bernice.
Yet, the simplicity of the story ends there. While the film pays homage to classic westerns, Akira Kurosawa, and George Miller’s Mad Max, it’s still one of the most original films you’ll see this side of the century. It’s a sensory overload that might cause your brain to combust from the sheer bizarre on screen. Sono is like a mad scientist who understands exactly which buttons he’s trying to push and he presses them over and over again. Some of his filmmaking ideas should clash in principle but it all works here.
There are shots in this movie that could merit an entire thesis by themselves, as Sôhei Tanikawa’s cinematography tells stories on multiple levels. It isn’t only what’s on screen, but also what it implies and intentionally omits. Sometimes, the playfulness of a scene is in direct juxtaposition to the message, but you understand why it’s the chosen method of delivery.
Prisoners of the Ghostland isn’t afraid to get violent when it must either, as it understands where and when is the perfect time to do this. However, there’s almost a theatrical approach to the violence as it tiptoes between wild choreography and musical performance. Watch how the actors move their bodies in some of the scenes—it feels more like a dance than a brutal fight.
Of course, Cage embraces the surrealist nature of this world around him. He has the time of his life on screen and it’s evident to see in his expressions. As mentioned before, he’s not even the wildest character in the film. Seriously, he looks subdued compared to Moseley, who out-Caged Nic Cage in an unexpected way. Who’d a thunk it?
There’s absolutely no doubt that this film will divide those who watch it. Some will appreciate it for its artistic qualities and unflinching commitment to the most eccentric of ideas. While others will struggle to wrap their head around some of the eccentric concepts and execution. But hey, this is a Cage-Sono collaboration, so you should have known what to expect.
Though, if you’re in the mood for something different from everything else out there, something unrestrained and primal, then Prisoners of the Ghostland will scratch that itch. There’s one specific explosive scene that will have everyone talking about it, but let’s not get too ballsy with the spoilers here. Hint, hint…