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Sundance 2021 Review: ‘Prisoners of Ghostland’

Prisoners of Ghostland opens with Hero (Nicolas Cage) and his unhinged friend Psycho (Nick Cassavettes) robbing a bank. Both men are caught but sent in two different directions. Psycho goes to prison, while Hero is in Samurai Town jail (yes, that’s the name). The Governor ( Bill Moseley) offers Hero his freedom if he agrees to find his granddaughter Bernice (Sophia Boutella) and bring her back to him. There is a catch, though. He’s given a suit with small bombs around his no-no parts that will detonate if he screws up the mission. He has five days to get back to the city. If not, he’s a goner. 

Director Sion Sono allows Cage and the entire cast to be as campy and ridiculous as they want. The performances capture that B -movie feel. With that said, the story is all over the place, and it’s hard to follow. Under normal circumstances, that aspect of the film would get under anyone’s skin, but surprisingly it works here, I think.

© RJLE films

 At the heart of the film is Bernice, who also is a character seen the least. Why cast Sofia Boutella if you aren’t going to use her to her full potential? She is an actress, prime for Hollywood action stardom, but she keeps showing up as a damsel in distress. She deserves better. 

This is by far Sono’s zaniest and ambitious project to date, with cool costumes and set designs that make it feel like his own personal purgatory. It takes a certain mood to stick with the plot, but the payoff is fairly satisfying–that is, if you can get through the second act. 

Prisoner of Ghostland is an Escape from New York knock off that annoyingly zig-zags to the point by throwing minor characters in and out of the story. At other times, the film just flat out makes no sense–but if you’re a Sono fan, you’ve probably come to expect this. He’s a director with his own style that isn’t for everyone. Yeah, there are flaws and lots of them, but the film is a wild ride worth taking.

Valerie Complex View All

Writer, Critic, and passionate about comics, movies and equality on the big screen.

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