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  Prisoners of the Ghostland Time Stood Still
Year: 2021
Director: Sion Sono
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes, Narisa Suzuki, Tak Sakaguchi, Grace Santos, Canon Nawata, Takato Yonemoto, Jeffrey Rowe, Jai West, Saki Owada, Charles Glover, Shin Shimizu, Yorino, Matthew Chozick, Lorena Koto, Yuzuka Nakaya
Genre: Horror, Action, Weirdo, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Some time ago, there was a bank robbery that resulted in a massacre when it went wrong, the armed criminals including one of their number who was trigger happy to say the least. Now, the leader of that gang, Hero (Nicolas Cage), has been in prison for a few years but has been freed to meet a local overseer known only as The Governor (Bill Moseley) who has only sprung him from his cell because he has a mission for him to participate in. As Hero stands in the middle of the shouting, cooing and singing townsfolk, the Governor explains he wants his daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) back, as she has escaped - can he win his freedom by succeeding?

Oh, and did we mention the leather jumpsuit Hero is wearing? The one fitted with explosives that will go off if he becomes too violent, two in his arms and two on his genitals, plus a collar on his neck to blow his head clean off should he fail in this mission before the timer on his wrist runs out? The timer that can only be deactivated by Bernice speaking into it? And there's also a key to unlock the collar and ensure Hero wriggles out of this ordeal, but that's around the Governor's neck on a chain. Are you getting the impression that Prisoners of the Ghostland was too convoluted for its own good? You ain't seen nothin' yet, as a certain film star of the past observed.

Indeed, so overinvolved was the plot here that far from being a barrage of wild imagery, which granted, it was already, it was incredibly difficult to get a handle on, one of those movies where you get halfway through and find you have a nagging feeling that you haven't picked up on an important plot point, or maybe more, and may increasingly be all at sea. Would it be the bit about Bernice's actual relationship to her "father"? Or the significance of the nuclear waste that keeps being mentioned? How about the meaning behind the huge clock that dominates the skyline of a ruined city, and seems to be able to stop time itself progressing, or is being manipulated to do so by its authorities?

All of this would be more than adequate for any number of post-apocalyptic sci-fi Westerns, but crammed into this relatively small space it got a bit much. There was a lot of pre-release buzz about this effort thanks to it being the first collaboration between two notorious filmmaking eccentrics, Cage and director Sion Sono (making his English language debut), and though the project was almost sabotaged by Sion's heart attack before shooting began, Cage to all reports guided the ship into harbour and ensured the working conditions were as stress-free as possible for him. While they were full of praise for each other, when the movie arrived it proved divisive, probably because it was so obstinately hard to follow, but if you were a fan of either of these gentlemen, rest assured there were compensations, even if you could tell Sion was softpedalling somewhat.

Well, he'd been ill. But this was a piece where the incidental pleasures made up for the deficiencies in the main body of the work, be that Hero having one of his testicles blown off and emoting to let us know how much that meant to him by later emphasising the word "testicle" at the top of his voice in a speech, or the Greek chorus who act as a de facto audience, letting the lead characters know when they are unimpressed with the way the plot is going. The production design was intricate too, difficult to work out whether it had been carefully built on sets to look like this, or the cast and crew had simply wandered onto an absolute dump and announced, "Let's do the show right here!" As expected, albeit more expected for Takashi Miike than Sion, there were samurai swordfights, especially for the grand finale, though the vehicular chases were almost non-existent, but in the main, if bafflement was your thing, then this came recommended.

[PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND: Released in the UK on 17 September 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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