Review by James Lindorf
“Prisoners of the Ghostland” is the answer to the question, what do you get if you love “Escape from New York,” have enough window panes of acid to remodel the Burj Khalifa and decide to write a movie. This over-the-top action film was directed by Sion Sono, written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai, and is currently streaming as a Shudder exclusive.
When Bernice (Sofia Boutella), the adopted granddaughter of a wealthy warlord, The Governor (Bill Moseley), runs away into the ghostland, he will stop at nothing to get her back. After his men fail to bring her back frees Samurai Town’s most notorious bank robber (Nicolas Cage) from jail and tasks him with bringing her home. To ensure his cooperation, our “hero” is strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within five days if he doesn’t find Bernice.
When I was growing up, Nicolas Cage was one of the most prominent actors in the world. He would star in dramas and romances for critical acclaim and big-budget action movies for his financial success. In the past decade, he started saying yes to every project that crossed his desk. Most of it you wish you could forget like “Dying of the Light,” “Pay the Ghost,” and “Primal,” but there have been a few films like “Joe,” “Mandy,” and “Pig” remind viewers how talented he is. It can be extraordinary when a compelling story and a director can get Cage to engage. Unfortunately, both the script and the direction have left this film wanting. It gives every appearance of being crazy and over the top, but it is all on the surface. It has no heart and feels like everyone was going through the motions.
The most successful elements of this film are the costume and set designs. Of all the departments, these two alone put their all into a movie that required 100% commitment from everyone to be successful. There is a gang of people in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that would fit beautifully in any Mad Max movie, and they move about like the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz.” Samurai town is staged in an east meets west style inspired by the likes of Akira Kurosawa and Howard Hawks. All men carry weapons, in this case, swords and or six-shooters, and all the women are dressed as geisha and are apt to break out into song. The world of “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is dirty, and beautiful, and interesting, and it deserved a better adventure.
“Escape from New York” has inspired many different properties, including video games like “Metal Gear Solid” and movies like “The Purge.” Luc Besson was sued for his 2012 movie “Lockout” because of its overwhelming number of similarities. I would say creators of “Prisoners of the Ghostland” should be expecting their own lawsuit, but frankly, it won’t make enough money to bother suing. People that enjoy illogical gonzo stories will find fun here. Still, the vast majority of audiences will probably never see the climactic battle. “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is a 1.5 out of 5.
Genre: Adventure, Action
Original Language: English
Director: Sion Sono
Producer: Michael Mendelsohn, Reza Sixo Safai, Laura Rister, Ko Mori, Nate Bolotin
Writer: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai
Release Date Shudder: November 19th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 40m
Distributor: RLJE Films
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