Exactly what Prisoners of the Ghostland
is, is hard to say. It’s ostensibly as much of a samurai movie as it is a western – two related genres rarely seen together in one single film. It’s a revenge movie set in modern time, though also in a vaguely alternate multiverse. It’s also what Nic Cage describes as
the wildest movie I’ve ever made. That is a wild prospect, and I have a hard time disputing it: It says a thing or two when Cage’s performance doesn’t rank in Prisoners of the Ghostland’s top-ten oddity meter.
At its core, it’s a simple movie. Cage was sent to prison after a bank robbery gone wrong when one day
The Governor presents him with an offer: Save the benefactor’s kidnapped adopted granddaughter within five days to go free or get blown up by a forced-upon leather jumpsuit. Save the maiden or die. It’s a concept as well worn as the suit – there’s not denying that Cage rocks it – and has been utilized in a number of westerns and samurai movies. Where Prisoners of the Ghostland differs is… well, everywhere else.
I’m not entirely sure what this movie is about exactly. Maybe nothing? Maybe it’s just a weird visual delight where the plot serves as a device to put Nic Cage – famusly an oddball in most every movie – in equally weird situations.
Because both things are true, the oddities and the visuals. The saturated colors of (and you can’t make this up) Samurai Town are reminiscent of Kill Bill, while the Ghostland echoes the desert lands of one of a Mad Max movie. Prisoners of the Ghostland certainly does have a distinct visual language, and strange as the movie is, it very clearly was well planned.
But man, oh man, is it weird. Apparently, time in the Ghostland – which Cage tracks down very quickly – has stopped because…? Why? I do not know, but it seems to involve a clock that the inhabitants are forced to stop from moving. The kidnapped ladies – and ladies only – that have been saved(?) are forced to hide(?) in mannequin disguises? I think? I’m not sure, but at one point, Cage does get a testicle blown off, which, while not unexpected adds some metaphorical color to the film.
Obtuse as Prisoners of the Ghostland is, I’m not sure if it’s a good movie. It’s fairly slow-moving – fitting when you take the dreamlike setting into consideration – until the action setpieces hit. Those are of a middling nature. Cage is reputedly an accomplished martial artist, something which most decidedly is not on display here. While well-trained extras and bit-players jump around, kicking and punching, our hero seems incapable of moving faster than an aging yellow belt, and I was at times seriously worried he would throw his back out. Cage’s eccentricities were at least on display, and hearing him repeatedly scream hay-fucking-yah was a treat. Cage will always be Cage.
That, too, involves him being what sounds like a consumate professional and a good guy. When director Sion Sono suffered from a heart attack, Cage insisted on moving the production from Mexico to Japan to help Sono properly recover, even when that meant losing some cast members. Classy move, Cage.
Prisoners of the Ghostland might not be a good movie – or maybe it is – but it is an interesting one. It did entertain me. Does the story make any sense whatsoever? I have no clue, but I’m also tempted to go back for a repeated viewing.
That, if nothing else, should give Prisoners of the Ghostland a checkmark in the positive column.
Letterboxd summary: In the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber is sprung from jail by wealthy warlord The Governor, whose adopted granddaughter Bernice has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman—and his own path to redemption.
Ratings from around the web
|One Star Classics||4/6|