Sundance Film Festival 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Nicolas Cage films are always a wild ride. In general, you kind of know what you’re in for when you pop one of Cage’s more recent films in. Prisoners of the Ghostland is Japanese auteur Sion Sono’s first film to be shot in English. Known for his violent films like Suicide Club (2001), Sono gives us a film that he describes as a hybrid of “East Meets West,” paying tribute to samurai films, spaghetti westerns, tales of revenge, and so much more. It’s a colorful concoction of neon and vibrant colors that really elevate the violence beyond simple blood splatter. Due to its beautiful cinematography and fun action sequences, this is a film that would greatly benefit from being seen on the big screen.

Nicolas Cage plays a character simply named Hero, who is released from jail by The Governor (Bill Moseley) forcing him on a quest to rescue Bernice (Sofia Boutella). The Governor claims that his granddaughter has been kidnapped. Hero is fitted with a leather jumpsuit that has small bombs aptly placed in areas that can blow up if he makes a mistake (naturally there are two fitted to his crotch! Ha!). What follows is a truly wild ride with Hero finding out that The Governor may not be telling the truth. The film also makes comments on nuclear fallout and how the aftermath of the bomb has impacted Japanese culture.

I’ve been a huge fan of Sofia Boutella, through her films like Climax (2018), Atomic Blonde (2017), Star Trek Beyond (2016), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Boutella is always beyond incredible at uniting powerful physicality and intense action training with strong emotional performances (particularly in Climax!), and Prisoners of the Ghostland is no exception. In the Q&A Boutella speaks about how the fighting choreography melded with her intense dance training background as her performance is always so controlled and rhythmic.

Sion Sono discusses how they had originally planned on shooting the film in Mexico, but due to the director having a heart attack during pre-production, they ended up shooting in Japan instead. While initially disappointed by this, as he was so excited about shooting in locations that mirrored his favorite spaghetti western films, he grew to love the hybrid look of the film that the crew was able to create. Personally, I absolutely loved the look of the film and the hybrid style left a very memorable impression that I’m excited to revisit later.

This is a prime example of a film that is destined to be a cult classic. Nicolas Cage gives a memorable and fun performance where he, as is expected, just fully embraces the craziness. If you’re a fan of Cage, director Sion Sono, Boutella, or Bill Moseley, do not miss this one. It’s just pure genre glory that needs to be seen. Just give in and enjoy yourself. Here’s hoping that Prisoners of the Ghostland finds success when it is released later.

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