In a post-apocalyptic frontier town, a dangerous criminal is press-ganged into a mission for a monstrous warlord. The man known as 'The Governor’s' granddaughter is missing, and he wants her found. Nicolas Cage’s ‘Hero’ is strapped into a leather bodysuit, covered in bombs, and released off onto the job. “So cool,” exclaims an awestruck onlooker as Hero rides out into the wasteland on an undersized bicycle. We would tend to agree.
This sense of awe pervades Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland. It’s evident that Sono and Cage had a blast working with one another - this post-apocalyptic Samurai Western is a collision of two unique, gonzo, uniquely gonzo sensibilities. Cage has been doing some incredible genre work of late – Mom and Dad, Mandy, Color Out of Space, Willy’s Wonderland, Mom and Dad and Pig, to name but a few. The trend continues here, where he’s great fun as the surly, weird antihero, undermining any badassdom with a series of odd kinks and tics.
With Nicolas Cage all wound up, threatening to ‘karate chop’ people all over the place, Prisoners of the Ghostland is a hard film to take seriously. Thankfully, it doesn’t take itself all that seriously either. Sono’s dystopian hellscape is more Terry Gilliam than Mad Max – an absurdist Escape From New York, infused with its Samurai influences. Meanwhile, Bill Moseley hams it up as the film’s villain, in his best role and performance since The Devil’s Rejects.
Between Cage and Moseley, Prisoners of the Ghostland isn’t lacking in manic energy. Balancing it out, Sofia Boutella is altogether more restrained as the Governor’s granddaughter. While the story of her emancipation is disappointingly weightless, Boutella holds her own against her scenery-chewing co-stars. No mean feat, in a movie in which sees Nicolas Cage screaming about his testicle while Bill Moseley stomps about the place dressed like a 19th Century Plantation owner.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is sometimes too self-consciously cool for its own good; an indulgent odyssey that lets its narrative focus and action sequences slide in favour of eerie visuals, eccentric performances and jarring one-liners. Depth is there if you care to look for it - the lost and the disenfranchised, held prisoner by the ghosts of their own past - but it's buried under layers of weird cult chanting, creepy mannequins, sneering villainy and... Nicolas Cage screaming the word 'testicle.'
In the end, we're all prisoners of a Ghostland - watching, quietly awestruck, as Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage do their thing. And what a thing it is. So cool.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is out now on digital outlets.