Nicolas Cage is an unlucky bank robber again in Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland. Cage fans will recall that back in 1990, one of his career-best roles saw him botch a heist in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. As recently as 2016, he played another unsuccessful criminal in Dog Eat Dog, while his cop-turned-villain in Kick-Ass didn’t fare too well either. This latest outing as a hapless lawbreaker might be the most deranged of all.
Having failed to rob a bank in Samurai Town, Cage’s misnamed Hero is offered the chance of early release by slimy local bigwig The Governor (horror veteran Bill Moseley from films such as The House of 1000 Corpses). The Governor asks Hero to save his “granddaughter” Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a toxic industrial desert area called Ghostland and is clothed in a leather jumpsuit like General Zod from Superman II. He’s understandably perturbed to find explosives within the suit around the neck, arms and testicles primed to go off if he steps out of line with Bernice and is given three days to get her back.
Almost everything in Japanese director Sono’s first English-language film is eccentric, with much of it leaning toward the outright bizarre. When Hero reaches Ghostland, it’s a cursed, Mad Max-style town of filthy, decrepit industry and grotesque inhabitants but somehow the most pedestrian of Toshihiro Isomi’s sets in the film. It makes more sense than Samurai Town, which is a garish neon-cowboy-geisha extravaganza. Still, it provides a cracking backdrop for some ace Samurai swordfights with blades speeding across the screen as cherry blossoms fall and blood spills.
Hero, a Cage protagonist almost as agonised as Mandy’s Red, fights, kills and quotes Shakespeare with aplomb while suffering nightmare visions of a young boy who died in the bank robbery he was imprisoned for. For her part Boutella, fast becoming a stalwart of the left-of-centre genre cinema that attracts actors like Cage, fully commits. But then, having played the lead in Gaspar Noé’s dance-horror Climax, how much further down the rabbit hole can one go?
Cage, Boutella and especially Moseley bring spirited performances that suit Sono’s whacky visual style, while Tak Sakaguchi is notable as key Samurai antagonist Yasujiro. There is also joy in the blood-letting, an unusual musical number and the bizarre costumes. But unfortunately, while a late-night cult crowd will go bananas for Prisoners of the Ghostland, it’s too much of a mess to recommend to all without significant caution.
- Director: Sion Sono
- Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley
- Release date: September 17 (in select cinemas across the UK and on digital platforms)