Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) Review

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Prisoners of the Ghostland

Time: 103 Minutes
Cast:
Nicolas Cage as Hero
Sofia Boutella as Bernice
Bill Moseley as The Governor
Director: Sion Sono

In the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber gets sprung from jail by a wealthy warlord whose adopted granddaughter has gone missing. He offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct in five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman — and his own path to redemption.

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I was actually quite excited for Prisoners of the Ghostland. One of the biggest selling points (which was used to market the movie) is that lead actor Nicolas Cage said that it might be the wildest movie he’s ever made, which is saying a lot considering his reputation for being in wild movies and/or being wild in some of his movies. So that combined the simple yet over the top premise, I was looking forward to it. The actual film didn’t quite deliver as I hoped it would.

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The premise is straightforward, a bank robber played by Nicolas Cage has bombs attached to him and he’s given a certain amount of time to rescue a woman before the bombs go off. I liked how the film started, and it showed some promise. It is a mash up of genres, with it being a western, samurai and post apocalyptic film, and it’s certainly impressive for that. However I had a sinking feeling as it approached the end of the first act, as its many issues reared their heads. The script is poorly written, and not always in the campy B-movie way. Despite the premise and the over the top nature, Prisoners of the Ghostland is surprisingly dull. It meanders a bit too much in the first half and I had mostly tuned out at the halfway point. Not much actually happens in the movie, and in the scenes where nothing was happening, I struggled to find out what the point of them were. It seemed like it was trying to build lore in these scenes, but even from that perspective the execution was lackluster.  On that comment from Cage, its definitely not one of the wildest movies he’s made but it is on the Weider side. However, it feels somewhat low effort and more like its weird for the sake of being weird, and it comes across rather hollow. It only picks up again when it enters into the climactic final battle in the third act. If the movie was just the climax it would’ve been a highly enjoyable throwback to over the top B-movies. However it is stretched to an entire movie length, and even at 100 minutes long it is tedious to watch.

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Nicolas Cage is in this movie and as expected this movie is definitely trying to play to his skills of being over the top. However to put it bluntly, if I was to make a list of the top 10 over the top Nicolas Cage movies/performances, Prisoners of the Ghostland wouldn’t come close to making it. He’s certainly over the top and lets loose in some moments. Otherwise he seems strangely restrained, probably because there’s not much of a character for him to play here, it’s just like he’s a parody of action leads. He makes the movie easier to sit through, but he somehow feels out of place with the rest of the movie. Sofia Boutella is the only actor in the movie who isn’t over the top, she’s playing the woman who Cage is trying to rescue. She’s decent in her part but she was very underused and not given much to do here. Every other actor is over the top and ‘weird’ but there’s not much of a character for them to play.

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Part of the hype for Prisoners of the Ghostland was the director Sion Sono, I haven’t seen any of his movies but I heard that he’s quite unique and ‘crazy’ as a filmmaker. With this film there’s certainly a lot of flare to his direction. The cinematography is fantastic, the practical sets are impressive, and the action isn’t anything special but is nicely stylised and fun to watch.

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I was rather disappointed in Prisoners of the Ghostland. Despite the premise, its just rather dull to sit through, especially the middle hour of the film. It does have some strengths, Nicolas Cage was enjoyable to watch despite being underutilised, I liked the mash up of different genres, and a lot of the technical aspects are impressive. At the very least, it has me interested to check out Sion Sono’s other work, but by itself, Prisoners of the Ghostland is just fine at best.

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