Sion Sono’s (Strange Circus, Suicide Club) Prisoners of the Ghostland (not to be confused with Pascal Laugier’s Incident in a Ghostland) feels like a very fitting entry to kick off this year’s edition of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival, helmed by John Alison, Jeff Drake, and their programmer team in Saskatoon, SK November 22-27th, 2021. The movie has Rat People, zombies, a bank robbery, geishas, weird proselytizers, and the prolific Nicolas Cage (The Color Out of Space, Mandy) in a leather suit that can make his testicles explode, and not in a good way. Because why not?
And perhaps that is the sentiment, “Why not?”, that gives Prisoners its’ unique flavor. At its core, the story is simple: a con gets released from prison on an errand to track down a young woman, Bernice (Sofia Boutella, Climax, Atomic Blonde) who has run off. He must leave Samurai Town, a frontier town populated by samurai, geishas, and ruled by a sleazy, tyrannical Governor (Bill Moseley, The Devil’s Rejects, The Church) who commands Bernice’s safe return. To retrieve Bernice, he must then enter the Ghostland, a place from where few return.
As weird as Prisoners of the Ghostland can get, it’s got a cohesive narrative carried forward by Nic Cage. After a certain point, though, the prisoners and the rat people and all the other trappings of the world began to feel a bit like set dressing to me, and the movie felt a little busy. I craved the minimalist monochromatic storytelling of how Hero comes to be.
Cage pulls off his character with ease, however, and I couldn’t see a different actor in the role. He’s already way too good at playing a smug prick in his movies. His level of crazy, which would be over the top for any other setting, just seems to fit well here. Other noteworthy performances would be Sofie Boutella, who I really enjoyed as Bernice, delivering a healthy progression from cowering waif to one ass-kicking woman. I also liked the greasy, slick Governor, played to perfection by Bill Moseley.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is outrageous and excessive. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel with its’ ideas. In Prisoners I could see movies such as Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape From New York. And in Sono’s use of the nostalgia factor, the echoes of stories past in Prisoners of the Ghostland feel fresh.