Fantasia ’21 Review: ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ is a totally bonkers film, in a good way

As we’ve previously established, Nicolas Cage is one of our most idiosyncratic performers and one of our last true movie stars. Sion Sono is a Japanese filmmaker known for his subversive and idiosyncratic sensibilities. So what do you get when these two meet? A bonkers film, that’s what.

The story opens with two scenes. First, Hero (Nicolas Cage) and his partner Psycho (Nick Cassavetes) burst into a bank, guns blazing, to rob it. Unfortunately, what starts as a simple robbery goes horribly wrong, and Hero ends up in prison.

Separately, Bernice (Sofia Boutella) –the niece of tyrannical Governor (Bill Moseley)– attempts to escape from the compound she is a prisoner in but ends up lost and trapped in a strange, supernatural outside the city, The Ghostland.

Sofia Boutella as Bernice in Prisoners of the Ghostland

The Governor frees Hero (yes, that is really his name), dresses him in a leather jumpsuit fitted with six explosives –two on his neck in case he tries to escape, one on each arm in case he tries to hit Bernice, and one on each testicle in case tries anything else– and sends him out in The Ghostland to find her.

The first half of the film has a pacing problem. After the first scene, things slow down to a crawl. While things get pretty weird pretty quickly, the film needs Nic Cage to bring The Full Nic CageTM to liven things up, which doesn’t happen until the third act of the film. Still, there are many flashbacks and ghosts and soothsayers (with a chorus of interpreters) and an entire town that stops time from advancing by constantly pulling on a rope tied to the minute hand of the clocktower in the town square.

As I said, it’s super weird. And idiosyncratic. And weird.

There is a lot to like here, though, especially if you’re a fan of the post-apocalypse as a genre. There are homages in design and dialogue to Mad Max; I Am Legend, and all kinds of other films and stories. There are samurai and cowboys and bikers and mutants, and everything in between. I mentioned before that the film doesn’t really start moving in earnest until the third act, but that act starts with a stirring speech from Hero in which Cage stands on the steps of the town hall and bellows the word “testicle” to the heavens.

Speaking of Cage, while his uneven output might be a source of derision, you can’t deny that he gives his all to what he’s doing as an actor. He is fully in with this role, and while he doesn’t go Full CageTM until the end, he’s never not in on the weirdness, and his line delivery and body language are delightful as a result.

The rest of the cast is ok too, it’s always nice to see Bill Moseley and Sofia Boutella is having a good year. Tak Sakaguchi is on hand as The Governors right-hand man/assassin, and his chops as a stuntman are beyond question (and if you’re not sure, just check out last years Crazy Samurai Musashi).

When everything comes to a head at the end of the film, there will be some things you can predict and some things you can’t, but it’s a wild ride to wrap up the story, and one can’t imagine anyone other than Cage pulling it off. Prisoners of the Ghostland is a must-watch for anyone who likes Nic Cage, weird b-movies, or movies with a unique and singular vision.

Prisoners of the Ghostland will screen in person this Friday, August 20th, and virtually on Monday, August 23rd, as part of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. It will be released in Canada by Mongrel Media in September.


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