Prisoners of the Ghostland

  • 04 Sep - 10 Sep, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland is a Cage-starring (mostly) English-language effort by prolific Japanese director Sion Sono. A mashup of idioms that sends Cage into a kind of netherworld to rescue a young woman for a petty tyrant, it alternates between too simplistic and incomprehensible, spending much of its time in between those poles in the “I understand, but I don’t care” zone. Destined to be quickly forgotten, it would need to play a hardcore genre festival to find an appreciative audience of any size.

Cage plays a man identified only as Hero, which is odd, given that we meet him as he’s raging out while robbing a bank. Okay, he may not be the thief who shoots a half-dozen innocent people, but he’s definitely a villain.

Years later, he’s rotting in a jail cell when he’s pulled out by a white-suited blowhard called The Governor (Bill Moseley). The Governor rules a bizarre collection of buildings that seem to be in the middle of nowhere — a kind of theme-park mishmash of samurai-themed establishments whose inhabitants are as likely to dress like actors in a Western as wear kimonos. The cult-like, volatile vibe here might recall Straight to Hell, but the ghost town Alex Cox envisioned was a lot more fun to be bewildered in.

The Governor has been told Hero is a man of unparalleled skills — just the man to find his “granddaughter” Bernice (Sofia Boutella). She has disappeared into some vague, dusty Bermuda Triangle outside the Governor’s reach; unlike Hero, we know she left the old man’s care voluntarily. In order to guarantee Hero doesn’t mishandle his cargo once he finds it, he’s locked into a black-leather jumpsuit with explosive charges stitched at the elbows, and the neck. The latter will be triggered if a sensor tuned to his brainwaves thinks his thoughts might be amorous.

Hero rides off and immediately gets trapped in Ghostland, a Beyond Thunderdome-like wasteland whose doomed inhabitants can never leave. He quickly finds Beatrice, who spends most of the rest of the film behaving like a zombie. But his efforts to leave with her go badly.

Describing the nature of Ghostland could eat up several paragraphs here, and it would probably sound a lot more interesting than it is onscreen. Suffice it to say that residents live in the long shadow of nuclear technology, both bombs and power plants that accidentally become destructive.