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prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

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There's something mighty bizarre with Sion Sono 's "Prisoners of the Ghostland," unrelated to when Nicolas Cage screams, "I'll karate chop you! Hi-f**king-ya!" Yes, there are fleeting delights to be had from this movie, especially if one loves to be surprised by absurd production design. East literally meets West in this world, as samurai and Western iconography are layered on top of each other for a setting called Samurai Town, where gory duels across genre can break out on neon-lit streets that always wants its movie-set artifice and artistic abandon to be known. But while the world that contains Cage can sometimes be eye-popping, there's a hole at the center of "Prisoners of the Ghostland." No movie with Nicolas Cage, directed by the wonderfully weird Japanese director Sion Sono, should be this taxing, drawn out, and plainly boring.  

Cage is the type of actor whose galactic performances directly feed from the stakes of the stories he's in—think about the intense emotional journey of " Mandy ," with heavy metal guitars accompanying his unrelenting journey into hellish revenge, and the gold that movie gave us. In "Prisoners of the Ghostland," Cage saunters around most of the film with a suit that is geared to blow up different limbs and also his testicles. In theory, that sounds like amazing and funny character motivation, but it gets lost in whatever this movie tries to pass off for the plot. You come for ideas like Cage wearing a testicle trap, and then you get rambling exposition about some ghostland boundaries, history of a nuclear explosion, flashbacks to a bank robbery involving Cage's character, and backstories for people whose emotions are played surface-level by their director.  

Cage's character (named Hero in the credits) is wearing the suit as a type of guarantee that he won't run away, as he's been forcefully enlisted by a powerful, malevolent figure named The Governor ( Bill Moseley ) to return his missing daughter Bernice ( Sofia Boutella ) from a place called the Ghostland. If Hero tries to take it off, it detonates at his neck; if he touches Bernice, his arm will face the same fate. If he dares get excited around her, well, there are two bulbs by his crotch. The star power of Cage's performance, in Man with No Name mode, comes from select line readings, a few yowling moments here, or a stolen goofy image there. It's also a little exciting (in a few bursts of ultraviolence) to see Cage in a form that he has inched toward for so long—his own version of a samurai. Only Cage could have played this type of role, but his character itself is so uninteresting beyond being played by Nicolas Cage.  

This is Sono's long-anticipated English language debut, and he treats it like a victory lap with no attention to the game. The script was written by Aaron Henry and Reza Sixo Safai , but it was undeniably taken apart and tangled by the unpredictable instincts of Sono, who is not precious in the slightest with even bits of emotion or backstory that would give us something to care about. He's especially slight when it comes to creating momentum for the story, even though it involves a rescue mission of sorts, a "Mad Max"-like apocalypse of sorts, and a flat subplot about a samurai named Yasujiro ( Tak Sakaguchi ) who later adds to the movie's body count. 

Sono is instead most concerned with getting every dollar out of his budget. It's all about these massive sets and the dozens and dozens of cultish-looking background characters who chant weird things and sings songs, and it's hard to get into the joke (whatever he might think it is) when it seems it's all one rambling set-up. The crumbling ghostland of the movie is massive, complete with a towering clock that multiple people in rags play tug-of-war with to stop time from passing, as one of the movie's many tangents. But it adds to the movie's odd, mundane nature that it's given a white and gray sheen—a far cry from the rich, heavy colors back in Samurai Town. Sôhei Tanikawa's cinematography promises great color in the beginning with the slow-motion shot of a gumball machine bursting open during an over-the-top shoot-out, and it feels like a con that we then get stuck with such a drab color palette that only reminds us of the story's bland stakes. 

There's the old Gene Siskel anecdote about whether a movie is more interesting than watching its actors have lunch. "Prisoners of the Ghostland" is more the case of, it would be more interesting to see its extras having lunch, preferably in their costumes. Imagine a group of people in samurai outfits, or shoulder pads with nails, or covered in toilet paper, talking amongst themselves about what they just did in a massive scene that Sono directed with the ease of a kid playing with action figures. Sometimes the movie is amusing because you can imagine its extras on the brink of laughing.  But that charm wears off too, especially as "Prisoners of the Ghostland" proves to be a movie that's far better at initially surprising you than holding your attention (it's especially grating in a second viewing, I found out).

Perhaps the greatest value about "Prisoners of the Ghostland" is that it will expose numerous Cage-philes and movie fans to the filmmaking of Sion Sono, in part because it's impossible to behold the extravagant excess of this movie and not want to know more about who made it with such abandon. Sono deserves the same kind of mainstream niche as a Quentin Tarantino or a Robert Rodriguez (I recommend Sono's "Why Don't You Play In Hell?", or for the more ambitious, his almighty pervert epic "Love Exposure"), and having Cage endorse him like this is a rare moment of the world doing good. Cage and Sono are kindred nutcases: they are artists who do not question themselves, and while they have a sense of humor stranger than we can comprehend, they are too sincere for irony. But "Prisoners of the Ghostland" is truly just a beginning; a false start to what should, and still could be one of the greatest cinematic collaborations since sound met motion.  

Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Prisoners of the Ghostland movie poster

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)

103 minutes

Nicolas Cage as Hero

Sofia Boutella as Bernice

Bill Moseley as Governor

Nick Cassavetes as Psycho

TAK∴ as Yasujiro

Yuzuka Nakaya as Susie

Young Dais as Ratman

Lorena Kotô as Stella

Canon Nawata as Nancy

Charles Glover as Enoch

Cici Zhou as Chimera

Louis Kurihara as Curi

Tetsu Watanabe as Nabe

  • Aaron Hendry
  • Reza Sixo Safai
  • Taylor Levy
  • Joe Trapanese

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Prisoners of the Ghostland Reviews

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland lacks any excitement and catharsis that made Sono the filmmaker he is today.

Full Review | Original Score: D | Mar 5, 2024

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

A world of total anarchy where samurais, cowboys, nuclear explosions, modern cars, and more collide to surround an otherwise simple narrative with nonsensically hilarious storylines and awesome action sequences.

Full Review | Original Score: A- | Jul 24, 2023

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

If you thought Mandy, Color Out of Space, Willy’s Wonderland or Pig offered up Nicolas Cage at maximum unhingedness, wait until you get a load of Sion Sono’s “delirious mash-up of Western, samurai movie and post-apocalyptic thriller”.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Mar 8, 2023

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners Of The Ghostland doesn’t quite deliver on its outlandish premise but Cage does enough to merit it getting a release due to good behaviour.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Nov 12, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

With a pinch of Kurosawa, a dollop of Mad Max, and a dash of Leone, Sono throws everything at the wall here and lets the audience decide whether they want to be along for the ride or not.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Sep 22, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

This meeting between these two cinematic wildmen ends up being equally fascinating and frustrating. It’s just a shame that Sono’s story always feels secondary and his lust for the surreal is so overpowering.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Aug 17, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Tarantinesque fare ran through the Mad Max mill where everything goes. [Full review in Spanish]

Full Review | Jun 15, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Then again, if the one thing missing in your life is seeing Nicolas Cage call a group of post-apocalyptic survivors a "bunch of bitches" while lamenting his lost testicle, this is the movie for you.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Apr 19, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland has impressive production design and cinematography, but this visually stylish action flick is too much of an incoherent mess in all other areas to be a truly enjoyable experience.

Full Review | Apr 18, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

An entertaining enough film that is worth dissecting for its many themes lying under the surface.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Apr 10, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of The Ghostland will certainly have an audience, but throwing away the rulebook is only impressive if theres something to replace it with. For all Sono and Cages enthusiasm, the end result is just too messy.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Mar 3, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland is like a failed yet well-made pilot episode, one that teases high drama but doesnt have anything interesting to say about the characters.

Full Review | Feb 18, 2022

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

"Prisoners of the Ghostland" is so bad, that I am sure at some point, years from today, it will probably get the title of cult

Full Review | Original Score: 4/10 | Dec 30, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

It could be entertaining to the right viewer.

Full Review | Original Score: B- | Dec 27, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland tries to be something larger than it really is, and it doesn't spend enough time excelling in any certain spot to make itself stand out from the rest of the field.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Dec 3, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

The movie is aptly titled, since most viewers will feel as if they're being held hostage by this dreary, punishing slog.

Full Review | Original Score: 1/4 | Nov 21, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland is certainly gonzo, but is there meaning to the madness? It seems ironic that a film which contains so much bizarre imagery could feel so lackluster at the same time.

Full Review | Original Score: 5.5/10 | Nov 18, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

A big, bold lesson about the perils of optimism.

Full Review | Nov 16, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

[It] doesn't conjure up much of a spark here; it's more bombast than lean...

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Nov 13, 2021

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland is a hard film to take seriously. Thankfully, it doesn't take itself all that seriously either.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Nov 12, 2021

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‘prisoners of the ghostland’: film review | sundance 2021.

Nicolas Cage stars in Sion Sono's samurai-Western rescue story set in a post-nuclear wasteland.

By John DeFore

John DeFore

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Prisoners of the Ghostland

Three years ago, Sundance booked Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy , a hyperviolent, singularly weird film that ranks among the most worthwhile products of Nicolas Cage ‘s anything-for-a-paycheck period. Cult-movie lightning doesn’t strike twice with Prisoners of the Ghostland , 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 (read: re-kidnap) 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.

The Bottom Line Not the good kind of bonkers.

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 (including a geisha brothel) 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. (Enthusiastically, even, under cover of night.) 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, the neck, and over each of his (as the Governor pronounces it) “testicules.” The latter will be triggered if a sensor tuned to his brainwaves thinks his thoughts might be amorous. (Readers may now be thinking of Escape from New York , and if they want to go cue that up right now instead of reading the rest of this, they’ll be making the right choice.)

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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, and at one point, he even loses a (as Hero screams it) “test-i-CAAAAL!”

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, and that the film’s production and costume designers had a lot of fun without worrying about why things look the way they do. Several scenes watch as locals maintain a ceaseless tug-of-war with the second hand of a giant clock, trying to prevent its forward motion because “if time starts moving, everything will explode again.”

All this madness would seem an ideal setting for, if nothing else, some patented Nic Cage craziness. But even at his most energetic here, the actor phones it in: It’s easy to spot the lines a fan of the film would quote in their imitations of him — “hi-fucking-ya!,” anyone? — but Cage here is a faint shadow of his weirdest self, and his sincere self never showed up on set.

No, this film belongs to the martial artist Tak Sakaguchi, who doesn’t even have to speak to command the screen in the too-short, too-few sequences that feature him. Playing the Governor’s driver/bodyguard Yasujiro, he’s magnetic even before he starts slice-and-dicing the violent townsfolk around him. A samurai whose past is explained in a single sentence, his story is more compelling than things the film clunkily takes dozens of minutes to explain. Even so: Remind me why he’s trying to both protect and kill Hero?

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres) Distributor: RLJE Films Production company: XYZ Films Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya Director: Sion Sono Screenwriters: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, Reza Sixo Safai, Laura Rister, Ko Mori, Nate Bolotin Executive producers: Natalie Perrotta, Nick Spicer, Aram Tertzakian, Yuji Sadai, Toyoyuki Yokohama Director of photography: Sohei Tanikawa Production designer: Toshihiro Isomi Costume designer: Chieko Matsumoto Editor: Taylor Levy Composer: Joseph Trapanese Casting director: Chelsea Ellis Bloch

102 minutes

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Let Nicolas Cage Guide You Through the Madness That Is Prisoners of the Ghostland

Portrait of Bilge Ebiri

This is the one where Nicolas Cage’s testicle gets blown off halfway through. It’s also the one where he finds himself wading through spike-suited scavengers and jigsaw-mannequin-faced zombies in a postatomic landscape. The one where he battles cowboys and samurais and gangsters all at once. Sion Sono ’s Prisoners of the Ghostland throws so much extreme weirdness and violence at us that we might overlook the fact that there’s method to its madness: Beneath the craziness and cacophony lies a tender, tragic tale of emotional paralysis and a civilization eating away at itself.

Cage’s character is simply referred to as “Hero,” which is interesting since in the film’s opening scene, he is anything but: He’s a wide-eyed, bellowing bank robber whose actions, alongside his (more aptly named) sidekick Psycho’s (Nick Cassavetes), cause the death of a young child. Imprisoned for years, Hero is let out by the imperious, all-white-clad Governor (Bill Moseley, sporting a ridiculous drawl) of Samurai Town — a phony Old West–style place populated almost entirely by geishas, cowboys, and samurai — on the condition that he travel into the surrounding atomic wasteland and retrieve the Governor’s beloved step-granddaughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella). Well, “beloved” … we’ve already seen Bernice fleeing Samurai Town under cover of night, and it’s clear that she has no love for this place or the Colonel Sanders–looking sicko who runs it.

Hero is outfitted with a leather jumpsuit that has explosives placed around the arms, the groin, and the neck — to prevent him from harming or lusting after Bernice, or trying to remove the suit — and given five days to bring her back. And the Ghostland isn’t some kind of vast, empty desert. Not long after he heads out, Hero finds himself in a settlement crowded with different tribes of broken people: a group of gearhead scavengers decked out in makeshift armor; a frozen gaggle of traumatized, paralyzed victims, their faces covered in fractured mannequin masks; and a ragged cult obsessed with preventing a giant clock from moving forward in time.

The whole movie, one could say, is about time. With its cowboys and samurai and geishas all living under the iron fist of the Governor, Samurai Town itself seems stuck at a cinematic intersection, a demented fantasyland constructed out of iconic images of the past. The people of Ghostland, meanwhile, regularly replay the history of the nuclear apocalypse that laid waste to their world. Nobody wants to move forward: One side is trapped by force; the other, by its own trauma and fear. Hero himself discovers that he might have been originally responsible for Bernice’s enslavement by the Governor. He’s also haunted by the images of people he’s killed, but they beckon him with smiles into a blue sky. Is it a taunt? Is it hope? Could it be both? Was any of this worth a testicle?

Anyway, there’s a lot of symbolism in there, not to mention a lot of pro forma, Joseph Campbellian hero’s-journey stuff. But one of Sion Sono’s great talents is throwing so much dazzling, surreal, dreamlike imagery at us that nothing ever feels heavy-handed or cliché. It’s almost like a gonzo variation on the way deep-focus long takes once revolutionized cinema last century; he liberates the viewer to find the things that matter to them.

With Cage’s screen presence to carry us through the story, chaos becomes a virtue. The actor, who spent much of the past decade as a punch line for taking on mountains of paycheck gigs that many deemed beneath his talents, is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. For starters, viewers have begun to reclaim some of those earlier, easily dismissed efforts and recognized in them the work of a performer always looking to do something surprising. His astonishing turns in such idiosyncratic wonders as Mandy , Mom and Dad , and Pig have also helped.

In Prisoners of the Ghostland , he gets to inhabit a rugged, haunted, macho protagonist. It’s a familiar role, but Cage, who has always been a big actor (how could he not be, with those exaggerated features of his?), is also the rare performer who can be poignant while indulging in pastiche. And so, he lets this seemingly generic action-movie type be funny, angry, ridiculous, and tragic all at once. We understand that if we stick with him, he’ll guide us through this cluttered, beautiful, violent hellscape. And what else are heroes for?

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‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ Review: Nicolas Cage and Sion Sono Make a Ballsy East-Meets-Western

David ehrlich.

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Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2021   Sundance   Film Festival. RLJE Films releases the film in theaters and on VOD on Friday, September 17.

Some movies don’t seem inevitable until they’re made. The most absurd thing about Sion Sono ’s “ Prisoners of the Ghostland ” — a sukiyaki psych-Western that casts Nicolas Cage as a criminal on a mission to rescue a runaway girl from a post-apocalyptic wasteland before the bombs attached to his balls explode — is that it didn’t already exist.

This is the first film that Sono shot (predominately) in English, and the first film that Cage shot with a (predominately) Japanese crew, but “Prisoners of the Ghostland” leaves no doubt that these two wildmen speak the same language. If this gonzo cross-cultural mash-up pulls taut across more ideas than it has skin on its bones, well, it’s easy to forgive Sono and Cage for getting a bit overexcited about meeting for the first time. (It may be worth noting that Sono suffered a heart attack during pre-production that scuttled plans to roll in Mexico and put the project in jeopardy until Cage suggested moving the whole thing to Japan.)

All but the most ad-hoc aspects of “Prisoners of the Ghostland” spark with the thrill of watching two completely self-possessed artists share a vision. Even when nothing else in the film makes sense, the unhinged ethos of its own creation leaves a clue behind with the clarity of a body-chalk outline. So does the movie’s title: As much as this is a story about anything, it’s about breaking the shackles of where you’re from and finding new strength from the people you meet along the way. There are perhaps too many times when that story is more compellingly told behind the camera than in front of it. But there are also other times when Cage screams at the sky while stretching the word “testicle” for the length of an aria.

For those unfamiliar with the poet emeritus of  ero guro nansensu (lit. “erotic grotesque nonsense”), Sono emerged from the sewers of Japan’s underground cinema like an irrepressible rat king who balled up the punk energy of Oshima Nagisa, the perverse nihilism of Tsukamoto Shinya, and the renegade mayhem of Suzuki Seijun into a coherent body of work that continues to mutate in wonderfully unexpected ways. A random and reductive sample of Sono’s films might include a four-hour epic about the overlap between organized religion and upskirt photography (“Love Exposure”), a grand guignol rap opera about the gang war that erupts after a mafia don is discovered to have a micro-penis (“Tokyo Tribe”), and a romantic epic about a heartsick musician whose pet turtle evolves into a giant kaiju after he flushes it down the toilet (“Love & Peace”). In other words, collaborating with Cage — an actor you might know from his 57 years of being Nicolas Cage — could be the single most predictable thing that Sono has ever done.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Their collaboration is a meeting of the minds that immediately delivers on its orgiastic promise, as shotgun-toting outlaw Hero (Cage) bursts through the doors of a half-empty bank shouting “Banzai!” at the terrified Japanese clientele. Not very heroic at all! Making matters worse is Hero isn’t alone: He’s accompanied by his massive partner-in-crime Psycho (“The Notebook” director Nick Cassavetes ), who’s doing a much better job living up to his name. Welcome to another day in the frontier city of Samurai Town, a two-horse anachronism that feels like it runs along the border between Westworld and Tokyo Disney.

The set design of Sweet Peach Street is a sight to behold, as Sono transforms a studio backlot into an electric fusion of people, cultures, and eras. There’s a cherry blossom tree on every sidewalk and a cowboy hat on every head. Classic Japanese architecture is festooned with English-language electronic tickers, the local kids pal around with a creepy Frenchman in a bolo tie, and the town’s only street appears to be a dusty cul-de-sac that ends with a massive cuckoo clock full of disembodied heads that pop out to chant ominous poetry. Is it even a clock, or just vaguely evocative of one? Who could say. Regardless, it anticipates a movie that — in its own abstruse way — is preoccupied with the stagnation of time and the oppressiveness with which it holds us in its thrall (not just in our time, but also in the time we inherit).

Samurai Town might seem to play by the rules of its own chronology, but its residents serve at the mercy of a man who’s referred to as “the greatest and most powerful clock.” That would be the Governor (Bill Moseley), a white man in an even whiter suit, and some people don’t enjoy living under the tick-tock of his watch — none more so than his adopted granddaughter Bernice (“Climax” star Sofia Boutella , always down to get weird), who hot-rods a sedan with some friends and steals away into the death-infested desert beyond. To get her back, the Governor enlists the help of the only person who might be desperate enough to go out there and get her back before it’s too late.

This is where Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai’s script really starts to wander off the beaten path. Hero is your basic terse and quippy badass with a heart of gold — imagine Nic Cage doing a slightly more loquacious Mad Max and you’ll be most of the way there — but his circumstances are… unusual. For one thing, he’s forced to wear a leather bodysuit that’s rigged with explosives and designed to “recognize the impulse of a man willing to strike a helpless woman.” For another thing… well, there really doesn’t need to be another thing when you have a time-bomb stitched to your nuts. The Governor, it seems, really doesn’t want anyone “soiling his property.” Hero has three days to get her back (tick-tock, tick-tock), and all the motivation a man could ever need.

From there, “Prisoners of the Ghostland” follows a Hero’s journey that’s been origami-ed into almost unrecognizable shape. In about five minutes flat, Hero is peeling Bernice out of a mask of cross-stitched flesh. (Everyone wears that in the Ghostland — it’s part of their mutant fallout chic.) That leaves Sono with so much time to throw new stuff into the pot that his film starts to feel as if it’s cooking into an allegory for itself.

What follows is a hard pivot from “Escape from L.A.” to “Beyond Thunderdome” — severe even by Sono’s usual standards — as Hero is greeted by the outcasts as a savior, and soon finds himself leading a ragtag army of mutants and feral children in a rebellion against the corrupt forces of Samurai Town. It’s a battle that feels secondary to Sono’s interests; the director’s post-Fukushima work has been haunted by images of abandoned humanity and atomic decay, and “Prisoners of the Ghostland” spends large portions of the movie forcing Hero to confront the grim absurdity of life among people who’ve been left for dead on poisoned land.

The conflict between Hero and his villains is so thinly sketched that it can seem incidental, but Sono has the time of his life digging into a script that fuses American and Japanese cultures through the awful power of their shared nuclear bond. Is there a meaningful relationship between Hero and the war bride who makes him dangerously horny? There is not. Is there any sense of narrative momentum heading into the (uncharacteristically lackadaisical) climactic showdown? Not a drop.

But is there a winged “Rat Man” whose modulated voice makes him sound like a Muppet who played in toxic waste, a prophecy about a man with “thick red blood” who will be the Ghostland’s salvation, and a dramatic reading from “Wuthering Heights?” Of course there is! The film is never more surprising than when Sono deigns to fill in some of the blanks, as its one scene of unalloyed exposition is inspired by the preventative demonstrations performed outside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial every August, and moving for how it allows the ridiculousness of the Ghostland to reflect back on the horrors of our own world.

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” might lose you during some of its less emotionally lucid moments, but even in the Hero’s confusion Cage always seems to know where he is and what he’s meant to do. He’s the unstoppable engine of a weirdly sedate film that often feels like it’s running on fumes; maybe it’s just the fact that his character’s testicles are going to explode off his body if he doesn’t keep things moving, but the actor never lets us forget that the clock is ticking.

Working with a director who complements his destabilizing energy (as opposed to merely tolerating it) has become the obvious secret to unlocking Cage’s full potential, and Sono — much like “Mandy” auteur Panos Cosmatos or “Dog Eat Dog” director Paul Schrader — has the galaxy-brain vision to shoot his star so he feels like a natural expression of the movie around him. “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is a film about a fallen world that will be lost in time until it can escape the chaos of its own creation. Hero can only hope to earn his name and save his testicles if he finds a way to weaponize that chaos into freedom. Lucky for the wretches of the Ghostland, Sono and Cage have forged an alliance that shows the entire world how to do just that.

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. 

As new movies open in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the  safety precautions  provided by CDC and health authorities. Additionally, our coverage will provide alternative viewing options whenever they are available.

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Nicolas Cage in a leather suit preparing to karate chop someone as a crowd watches in Prisoners of the Ghostland

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Prisoners of the Ghostland gifts Nic Cage a crazed Mad-Maxian samurai western

Cage finds his match in director Sion Sono

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[ Ed. note: This review was first published in conjunction with Prisoners of Ghostland’s release at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival . It has been updated for the film’s theatrical release.]

Logline: When Bernice (Sofia Boutella) goes missing in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, her wealthy, well-connected adoptive grandpa springs a bank robber (Nicolas Cage) from jail, straps him in a leather suit outfitted with bombs, and gives him five days to retrieve her — or suffer explosive consequences.

Longerline: Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono has made a career out of extremism. Films like the four-hour sex-and-religion romp Love Exposure and the street-gang musical Tokyo Tribe are the daydreams of a cinematic madman. Pairing him with Cage doesn’t just seem like a good idea, it sounds like cosmic law. These two Chaotic Good titans had to make a movie together before they called it quits.

Going too deep on the plot of Prisoners of the Ghostland is not so much a spoiler issue as a futile attempt to describe a genre mash-up with hedonistic impulses, but here’s a taste anyway: After a botched bank robbery spills innocent blood, “Hero” (Cage) and his bulky accomplice (Nick Cassavetes) get locked up in the dungeons of Samurai Town. In the East-meets-West alcove, samurai roam the streets and a Kentucky Fried gentlemen named The Governor (Bill Moseley) rules like a mob boss. The Governor recruits Hero as his own one-man Suicide Squad to retrieve Bernice from the post-apocalyptic dead zone beyond the walls. To ensure the criminal doesn’t get too handsy, the mafioso locks Hero into what is fair to call Chekov’s Limb-Splodin’ Leather Suit. If anything goes wrong with the mission, it’s bye-bye precious body parts. There are even two tiny bombs situated on Hero’s testicles. No spoilers, but Sono doesn’t let that ball hang in the air for long.

shadowy figures stand in a dustbowl near a mannequin in Prisoners of the Ghostland

What follows is basically Nic Cage’s Mad Max: Fury Road . The “Ghostland” of the title is an irradiated zone with its fair share of infected citizens looking for a better life, and zombie-esque creepsters for Cage to plow through. When Hero connects with Bernice, the two unravel the mysteries behind How Things Got This Way, and why some desert cultists scream “ THE PROPHECY!” and “THICK RED BLOOD!” Throughout the journey, Hero recalls the traumatic moments of the robbery-gone-wrong, and works through the wrongs of his past to find something resembling redemption. He also fights a bunch of ninjas.

What’s Prisoners of the Ghostland trying to do? Strike the bombast of Hollywood blockbusters against the bombast of Japanese action cinema to see what catches fire. From the exaltation of a motorcycle-riding Cage as the pinnacle of cool (someone off-screen literally says “He’s … so cool”) to the near-lampooning of Kurosawa tropes, Sono has a globe-trotting taste and zero restraint in putting every stray idea on screen. Unexpectedly, though, it’s one of the director’s more mainstream efforts. What could easily devolve into a Crank -like exercise in hyperactivity is conducted with a steady hand and an appreciation for the details. Sono wants his audience to luxuriate in the brutal beauty of Boutella wielding a gatling gun.

In his notes for the film, Sono says that while Prisoners of the Ghostland puts a love of pop entertainment on the screen, “What I really wanted to create behind all that is distortions of the modern society making real of the unreal world. I believe we are living in an irrational world.” Hard to disagree, although the movie doesn’t devote much time to considering those distortions. Yes, Ghostland is the byproduct of a toxic spill, and its inhabitants, good and bad, are suffering. But the potential social or eco-commentary never surfaces. Instead, what we see is what we get: The “ghosts” are literal, the radiation timeline is mythology, and the decimated world is fertile ground for Hero’s Journey prophecies about Cage being the “most powerful clock” or something. Sono seems to have challenged himself to make the most entertaining movie of all time.

The quote that says it all: [Extreme Nic Cage acting voice] “I AM RADIOACTIVE.”

nic cage and nick cassavettes shooting up a bank in Prisoners of the Ghostland

Does it get there? Prisoners of the Ghostland is primed for the packed-house, few-drinks-in midnight-movie slot. Presented in the less-than-ideal at-home venue, by nature of virtual Sundance, it’s a delightful love letter to action-movie excess. Like The Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending or, more literally, Who Framed Roger Rabbit , Sono embraces cartoon nonsense logic in order to whisk Cage to each of the film’s unexpected mile markers. The Governor is American, so obviously he strolls out in all whites and a cowboy hat. The samurai warriors might as well be RPG NPCs engaging in a sword battle set to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” A sequence depicting the accident that melted the countryside into a decaying shade of its former self flips across the screen like the pages of a manga. A star who has perfected the mouth-agape, raised-eyebrow “Wut?” face is the glue that keeps all the pieces stuck to the collage.

But let’s not underestimate Cage. He rises to Sono’s level. Sporting strange sprayed-on Ken-doll makeup and Lee Marvin killer energy, Cage becomes a living action figure. He even has kung-fu grip ! In a third-act sequence, Cage (or at least a spot-on body double in armor) goes toe-to-toe with the head samurai, delivering moves that keep up with the kinetic camerawork. If only Sono had found more for Boutella to do, Prisoners of the Ghostland might have achieved instant cult status. With action credits like Kingsman , Atomic Blonde , and Star Trek Beyond to her name, she’s more than capable of executing stunts and choreography. Sono loses her in Cage’s shadow, but again, she can really make that gatling gun sing.

Much like Sono’s previous films, Prisoners of the Ghostland is eye-catching. The costumes, ranging from radiation fallout gear to the lavish traditional robes, tell as much story as any expositional dialogue. The sets, while occasionally looking like soundstage stand-ups, continue the director’s aggressive dadaist approach. One minute Sono brings viewers to the Tokyo-inspired streets of Samurai Town, then seconds later, we’re in Ghostland, a junkyard built by way of Hook . It’s overflowing with oddities.

What does that get us? A great reminder that whirlwind action movies don’t need to cost $200 million. Sono’s output may never catch on like Japan’s anime exports or Korean auteurs like Bong Joon-ho, but for anyone worn thin by the homogeny of American superhero cinema, there’s an entire back catalogue waiting for you. Prisoners of the Ghostland is a great, digestible start.

And a note about Cage: After running into some financial troubles in the 2010s, there’s been suspicion that the former A-lister will sign on to any script that crosses his desk. Okay, yes, there are stinkers in his filmography to support the theory, but Cage, unlike Bruce Willis and his current DGAF-on-DTV career, shows up for every damn movie he’s in . He seems to find lifeblood in the odd and extreme. Sono is on the same quest. There’s no wink-wink cynicism to casting Cage in this role. He’s a BIG movie star without BIG movies to star in. Prisoners of the Ghostland demands his style.

The most meme-able moment: I really want to talk about what happens with the testicle bomb goes off but just watch it.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is now in theaters and available to rent on Amazon , Apple , and other VOD platforms.

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‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ Review: A Match Made in Heaven — or Post-Apocalyptic Hell

The combination of Nicolas Cage and Sion Sono is so weird, fans of either eccentric may not even mind how bad the movie is.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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Prisoners of the Ghostland

At some point in the distant future, long after nuclear holocaust or airborne plague has wiped out the human race, some film critic (we’re like cockroaches, sure to survive such an apocalypse) will no doubt uncover a list of the projects Nicolas Cage has turned down, and it will finally become clear how the actor determined the course of his career.

For about a dozen years, from mid-’90s Bruck-buster “The Rock” through family hamster-tainment “G-Force,” it has seemed that the ka-ching of a cash register must have been the deciding factor, but in the dozen years since, a pattern has emerged that Cage isn’t merely cashing checks but may in fact be shaping the world’s most eccentric filmography by design.

Proof positive is his agreement to make “ Prisoners of the Ghostland ” with Japan’s resident weird-meister Sion Sono — a revolving position that amounts to being the unofficial poet laureate of extreme psychosexual shlock, one that’s been passed from Nagisa Oshima down to Takashi Miike through the years and now lands squarely on the shoulders of prolific provocateur Sono (“Love Exposure,” “Antiporno”). Such directors enjoy a time in the sun, when film festivals looking for something far outside the realm of the usual decide the flavor du jour deserves to be championed.

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Just when Sono appeared to have passed his expiration date, the Japanese director has agreed to splatter-paint his first majority-English-language feature, choosing a half-baked samurai Western whose wild-eyed antihero (named “Hero,” since Christopher Nolan had dibs on “Protagonist”) might be played by none other than Cage. This is cause for celebration in some corners — like the one where Sundance programmers have been gifted a Sono joint for their pandemic-afflicted 2021 Premieres section — and dissociation in others, since Cage’s how-gonzo-can-you-go limbo bar has now crossed over into a parallel dimension (where this questionable “National Treasure” will soon be playing “Tiger King” Joe Exotic).

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For those still on the fence, the good news here is that even when so clearly bored, Cage is never boring. That means even though this script — credited to Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai — appears to have been written with the express intent of being absurd, the worse it is, the more fun Cage can have with it. As when Sono suits him up in a black leather union suit with exploding sensors located at his neck, elbows and crotch. One wrong move, and tiny bombs will teach him a lesson.

“They say you’re a veritable phantasm,” drawls the Governor (Bill Moseley as a white-hat bad guy), addressing Hero after he’s been paraded through the streets in a buns-baring fundoshi. This scene is set on a postmodern Gion-meets-Old-West backlot set identified as Samurai Town (though there’s no evidence that any other Towns exist on this planet), where Village People cowboys cluster beneath neon signs and geisha gawk at the size of Hero’s gyro.

Beyond the city limits lies “the Ghostland,” a “Mad Max”-like dirt-scape the Governor describes as “a stretch of highway where evil reigns,” while his loose-cannon granddaughter (Yuzuka Nakaya) stands there screaming about her missing sister Bernice (Sofia Boutella). It’s all meant to be outrageous, but it’s more exhausting than anything, as the Governor explains the deal by which Hero — who’d been imprisoned for years after a bank robbery went wrong — can earn his freedom: Retrieve Bernice, who’s been kidnapped and decoupaged with bits of mannequin skin, without abusing her. Should he try to slap her, the suit is programmed to blow off one of his elbows. Think impure thoughts, and he can say goodbye to his testicles.

Three days later, in what’s meant to be a rallying cry, Hero bellows, “If you’d told me three days ago I’d be standing here with one arm and one tesssticallll trying to reason with you bitches, I would have said ‘Impossible’ too!” It’s not Shakespeare (that would be the tossed-off “Alas, poor Yorick” line), but it’s the kind of dialogue that Cage maniacs have come to expect from the actor. Meanwhile, the “bitches” to which he so refers are the “Ratman and his Rat clan,” plus a bunch of toga-clad modern-dance oddballs arranged like extras from D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” before an enormous clock, determined to stop time (which make’s Hero’s journey seem puny by comparison).

Don’t look for logic in Ghostland, but feel free to feast your eyes on everything else. Sono’s design sense has come a long way since the degraded-video aesthetic of 2001’s “Suicide Club.” Toshihiro Isomi’s too-busy (but admirably kooky) sets suggests a Japanese spin on the sort of recycled-future garbage dumps found in Terry Gilliam movies, where rusty plumbing and jerry-rigged Christmas lights can transform an abandoned car park into a traveling circus.

Combine those visuals with Chieko Matsumoto’s costumes and some pretty creative facial makeup, and Sono has effectively guaranteed that we’ll always have something interesting to look at, even as the brain struggles for meaning. He even makes room for a musical number, set to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which is better executed than the climactic showdown, where Bernice brings a gun to the swordfight and samurai Yasujiro (Tak Sakaguchi) can’t decide whose side he’s on.

There was a time when Cage’s longtime fans half-wished the actor would take a hiatus. These days, he makes five or six movies a year, evidently selecting his roles for maximal eccentricity (hitting the jackpot with “Mandy,” which became a midnight cult fave). In any case, better this than the days of “The Weather Man” and “The Wicker Man.” Old buddy Sean Penn once said of Cage, “He’s not an actor; he’s a performer,” and projects like these are too self-consciously out there to suggest otherwise.

Who are such movies for? Well, jaded film critics and audiences so desensitized by formula that anything this far off the rails can be forgiven for stinking, so long as it surprises. Somehow, it doesn’t actually seem surprising that Cage would partner with Sono. But the creative choices they make together, from an exploding gumball machine to endangered testicles — well, they must be seen to be believed.

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (online), Los Angeles, Jan. 31, 2020. Running time: 102 MIN.

  • Production: A Patriot Pictures presentation of an Untitled Entertainment, Boos Boos Bang Bang, Eleven Arts Studios, XYZ Films, Patriot Pictures production, in association with Sion Prods., Saturn Films, Komodo Prods., Union Patriot Capital Management, LLC. (Int'l sales: XYZ Films, Los Angeles.) Producers: Michael Mendelsohn, Reza Sixo Safai, Laura Rister, Ko Mori, Nate Bolotin. Executive producers: Natalie Perrotta, Nick Spicer, Aram Tertzakian, Yuji Sadai, Toyoyuki Yokohama.
  • Crew: Director: Sion Sono. Screenplay: Aaron Hendry & Reza Sixo Safai. Camera: Sohei Tanikawa. Editor: Taylor Levy. Music: Joseph Trapanese.
  • With: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya. (English, Japanese, French dialogue)

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Nicolas Cage in Prisoners of the Ghostland.

Prisoners of the Ghostland review – Nicolas Cage outdoes himself in deranged action movie

Brace yourself as Cage at his most OTT and Japan’s barmiest director wreak havoc

A fantasy action movie starring Nicolas Cage as a bank robber tasked with rescuing the niece of the power-crazed Governor from a cursed netherworld, Prisoners of the Ghostland is an outlandish proposition even before you learn that it’s directed by Sion Sono , arguably the most deranged person working in Japanese cinema. Unfortunately, for all its demented Mad Max yakuza meets Monty Python aesthetic and Cage’s most OTT performance in a while (lots of flared lips and gritted teeth), Prisoners soon goes from being a crackpot diversion to an endurance test of extravagant wackiness.

Still, it’s almost worth watching just for the way that Cage delivers the word “testicle”: it sounds as though all the syllables got caught in a combine harvester and then had to be reassembled, with the accents and emphases in the wrong places. It is, like much of the film, utterly barmy.

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Prisoners of the Ghostland review: Nicolas Cage's “wildest” movie is not his best

Cage's East-meets-West fantasia is high on visual iconography and surprisingly low on energy.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners of the Ghostland may be the wildest movie Nicolas Cage has ever made — at least, so says Nicolas Cage .

Coming from one of our great on-screen demolition experts, this is a bold statement. Few actors — and almost certainly no Oscar winners — have perfected the art of the freak-out like Cage, a brilliant actor who sometimes appears to pick projects by blindly hurling darts at a board (or, more plausibly, at his agent).

In Prisoners of the Ghostland — directed by the prolific Japanese auteur-poet Sion Sono — Cage plays Hero, a po-faced bank robber imprisoned in the bowels of Samurai Town. This strange and colorfully stylized outpost, where cowboy hats and kimonos are equally in vogue, is lorded over by the Governor (Bill Moseley), a despot whose deep-fried Southern drawl and snow-white suits suggest a hybrid of Colonel Sanders and Foghorn Leghorn.

There are hybrids galore in Ghostland , which was written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai. The film bills itself as an “East meets West” fusion, and Samurai Town is staged iconographically as a cross between Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epics and John Ford’s classic Westerns. All the men carry swords or six-shooters or both, and the women are costumed geisha.

Through its color-mad procession of costuming, lighting, and set design, this is the kind of eroto-cinephilic fantasia where high-noon showdowns take place in hanamachi , along streets lined with cherry blossom trees.

Forcibly recruited to retrieve the Governor’s lovely, headstrong daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who’s fled into the post-apocalyptic badlands outside Samurai Town, Hero is outfitted with a leather suit that’s rigged to detonate if he’s not back with Bernice in five days. Oh, and should he make a move on Bernice, the suit’s explosives are located in his nether regions. The slightest hint of arousal will set them off. And so Hero soldiers off, into the wasteland.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Nicolas Cage as Hero in Prisoners of the Ghostland.

A long way from the Hollywood leading-man purgatory he once found himself in, between comic-book movies like Ghost Rider and action blockbuster hits like Face/Off and National Treasure , Cage has spent the past decade appearing left and right in lower-budget productions. These have been frequently forgettable ( Dying of the Light , Pay the Ghost , Primal ) and occasionally revelatory ( Joe , Mandy ).

When Cage is engaged by a filmmaker and a script with a legitimate vision, as in this year’s unexpected tour-de-force Pig , watching him can be sublime, a borderline-religious experience. When he’s decidedly not, as in this year’s lugubrious Five Nights at Freddy’s riff Willy’s Wonderland , watching him can be deeply painful, like catching sight of an old friend who’s fallen on hard times and is embarrassed you’re seeing him this way.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Sofia Boutella as Bernice in Prisoners of the Ghostland.

Arriving on the heels of both Pig and Willy’s Wonderland , Prisoners of the Ghostland pairs Cage with a filmmaker as wildly prolific as he is. Sono has helmed 50-odd projects across film and television, including one magnum opus (his four-hour “upskirt-photography epic,” 2008’s Love Exposure ). Many of his most inspired genre mash-ups out there range from 2001’s J-horror detective saga Suicide Club to 2013’s romantic yakuza meta-satire Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Few directors currently working are as gleefully propelled by their obsessions and fetishes as Sono, whose style of filmmaking has been described as channeling the Japanese concept of “euro guro nansensu” (erotic grotesque nonsense). In 1985’s I Am Sion Sono! , he declared that “a few things symbolize Tokyo for me: knives, whores, [and] clocks.”

All three factor into Ghostland, especially once Hero makes his way to the titular locale. In this carnivalesque junkyard, time has stopped, mutants scrabble around in the debris, and the unluckiest residents are covered head-to-toe in pieces of department-store mannequins. It’s here that Cage goes truly berserk, engaging in an acting style he’s called “Western kabuki theater.” This amounts to him delivering dialogue at constantly shifting decibels and with the off-kilter intensity that’s become a Cage signature. It’s quite something throughout Ghostland , whether he’s screaming “I’ll karate chop you!” at one assailant or angrily spurning a cool car to ride off on a little bike.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Nicolas Cage as Hero and Tak Sakaguchi as Yasujiro in Prisoners of the Ghostland.

Ghostland marks Sono’s English-language debut, and he originally planned to shoot the movie in a Mexican desert before a heart attack mandated that he move production to Japan. Given this, one can infer the filmmaker was at one point pursuing a vision more closely aligned with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s acid Western El Topo and his subsequent avant-garde classics, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre.

And slivers of Jodorowsky’s influence remain; Ghostland combines gorgeous and gruesome in a way that harkens back to the lineage of ‘70s midnight-movie sensations sparked by El Topo. Certain images, especially the mannequins embodying the film’s title, vibrate along that same spiritually strange frequency. But the film stages almost all of its action in just two locations, with Samurai Town and the Ghostland feeling unfortunately artificial as a result.

What’s most missing in all this mayhem, though, is the vision of an auteur actively engaged with the meaning of the euphorically gonzo tableaux he’s staging. Ghostland often feels more like artistic forgery than the genuine article, slavish in its devotion to visually approximating Sono's influences' profane and profound imagery yet oddly inert when it comes to doing anything with them.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Tak Sakaguchi as Yasujiro in Prisoners of the Ghostland.

Ghostland’s 102 minutes pass by, and as aurally pleasing as the film is, its story never really kicks into gear, nor does its pacing thrill the way it should. Sono’s hardcore fanbase will enjoy the callbacks to his previous features littered throughout, but it’s hard not to feel like the director is running on fumes, imitating himself within the confines of an American cinema far less amenable to his once-authentically transgressive verve and political fire.

When the film screened at Sundance earlier this year, its most nirvanic peak was a gory, balletic action setpiece in which Tak Sakaguchi’s samurai Yasujiro sliced and diced his way through a horde of opponents in Samurai Town, all set to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” That particular sequence is bizarrely missing from the theatrical cut, suggesting that last-minute tinkering or rights issues have further neutered what already feels like a half-strength outing for both director and star.

It’s hard to say whether there’s a version of Ghostland that would have more confidently matched Cage in all his crazed glory to a filmmaker as idiosyncratic as Sono. Ghostland is worth seeing for its dizzying stream of visuals and absurdist midnight-movie flavor. Still, without a stronger narrative or directorial style driving it, the film dances across the screen and evaporates in your memory like a charged and weightless daydream.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is in theaters, on-demand, and on digital platforms September 17.

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‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ Review: Going Nuclear

If the combination of Nicolas Cage and the director Sion Sono suggests a special kind of lunacy, this sunbaked samurai western more than delivers.

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By Jeannette Catsoulis

With hindsight, we should have known that a collaboration between Nicolas Cage and the dashingly eccentric Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono was only a matter of time. Yet now that “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is here, it seems equally apparent that doubling the weirdness can, for the audience, produce ten times the head-scratching.

The partnership should have been sublime. And maybe if Sono had written the script himself (as he often does, perhaps most movingly in his 2011 treatise on upskirt photography, “Love Exposure” ), this sunbaked samurai western might have made a lick of sense. As it is, Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai’s story is so busily demented that Cage seems at times uncharacteristically muffled. To play Hero, a reprobate tasked by a white-suited warlord (Bill Moseley) to retrieve the warlord’s missing granddaughter (a persuasive Sofia Boutella), Cage spends most of the movie in a leather suit studded with strategically placed explosives. Should Hero harbor impure thoughts toward his quarry, his gonads will be goners.

Crammed with mugging extras and chanting geishas, scrabbling mutants and ambulant mannequins, “Prisoners” can slide in an instant from haunting (a disfiguring mask slowly peeling from a woman’s face) to circuslike. Sono’s visuals, sizzlingly realized by the cinematographer Sohei Tanikawa, lack neither brio nor imagination. But the ludicrousness of the plot severs any emotional connection to a story whose apocalyptic stylings (the Ghostland of the title is a nuclear wasteland) gesture toward Japan and America’s painful history. In light of which, Hero’s eventual sacrifice of a single testicle seems an entirely negligible forfeit.

Prisoners of the Ghostland Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play , Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland Review

Prisoners Of The Ghostland

17 Sep 2021

Prisoners Of The Ghostland

It’s perhaps not surprising that this collaboration between Japanese iconoclast Sion Sono and Coppola-spawned maverick Nicolas Cage is stone-cold crazy, a post-apocalyptic samurai Western man-on-a-mission movie. Making his mostly English-language debut, Sono, the cult director behind Tokyo Tribe , Why Don’t You Play In Hell  and  Love Exposure , seems like the ideal partner-in-crime for Cage, both talents happy to swing for the fences in wild tonal shifts and off-the-chain outrageousness. It’s just a shame, then, that their union can’t channel their go-for-broke attitude into something even vaguely coherent and dynamic.

Prisoners Of The Ghostland

It starts as it means to go on. Cage is The Hero — perhaps a second cousin to Tenet ’s The Protagonist — and we meet him bursting into a bank, wielding a shotgun and shouting, “BANZAI!” at the top of his lungs. Imprisoned, he is sprung from jail by The Governor ( Bill Moseley ), the white-suited boss of (the highly stylised) Samurai Town who needs a favour: his gaggle of geishas, including his granddaughter Bernice ( Sofia Boutella ), have skipped town and now he wants them back. But — to quote Han Solo when the TIE Fighters arrive — this is where the fun begins. For starters, The Hero is forced to wear a leather bodysuit that’s sewn with explosives and primed to “recognise the impulse of a man willing to strike a helpless woman”. But more excitingly, the bombs are stitched to his nuts to stop him playing with the Governor’s property. And you don’t have to be a screenwriting guru to know that if Nicolas Cage has a bomb tied to his balls near the start of Act One, it’s only a matter of time before his gonads are goners.

Completely in sync with Sion Sono’s madcap sensibility, Nicolas Cage is fully committed.

It’s a solidly set-up premise. The Hero takes off to the wasteland next door, where the post-apocalyptic denizens literally turn back time (Cher would be proud) by doing tug-of-war with the hands of an outsized clock. It’s around this point where Prisoners Of The Ghostland starts firing off in all directions with little rhyme or reason, pulling in such bizarre ingredients as a clan of scavengers known as The Rat Family, a Greek Chorus of dancers,  Wuthering Heights , and a Hiroshima allegory. Just at the point where The Hero is seen as the messianic figure who is going to lead the ragtag band of mutants and urchins (all looking like refugees from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome ) against the corrupt Governor, it finds even more weird tangents to dissipate the momentum.

Still, it’s worth it for some cool fights, Sono’s imaginative filmmaking, Boutella, and Yuzuka Nakaya as The Governor’s other granddaughter, who do their best to ground the bonkersness and, of course, Cage. Completely in sync with Sono’s madcap sensibility, the actor is fully committed, be it heading on his mission on a little girl’s bicycle or shouting at the top of his lungs, “If you’d told me three days ago I’d be standing here with one arm and one testicalllllllllllll…” as a way of geeing up the masses. It’s hardly, “I’m Spartacus.” But, as a knowing rejoinder to Prisoners Of The Ghostland ’s madness, it’s priceless.

The Review Geek

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) Movie Review – An absolutely bonkers arthouse trip

A Weird Mishmash Of Different Ideas

Prisoners of the Ghostland feels like the movie equivalent of pineapple on pizza; you’ll either love it or hate it. This feels like a weird Frankenstein’s monster of different genres. There’s a bit of dystopian apocalypse, a bit of samurai action, a bit of absurdist comedy and a whole bunch of crazy (and utterly beautiful) symbology.

This is a film you really have to pay attention too though, with some sporadic bursts of editing that jumble up the screenplay intentionally.

The bold choices all feed into that “weird” hotpot of oddity that builds up all the way through the movie, keeping you glued to find out what happens next. Or roll your eyes and turn it off without a second glance – there really is no middle ground here.

Now, the story itself begins with three or four seemingly disparate scenes all stitched together at the beginning. Persevere through this though and the film does become clearer.

Our setting is the frontier city of Samurai Town, run by a particularly nasty warlord called The Governor.

A ruthless bank robber known simply as Hero is recruited for a rescue mission off the back of a bank robbery gone wrong. The Governor gives Hero three days (five if he can get Bernice to say her name before the allotted time runs out) to bring his granddaughter Bernice back. Oh, and Hero is strapped with an explosive suit for good measure too.

As Hero steps out, he bites off more than he can chew in the wilderness, running into bandits and facing the horrifying truth of what happened to him in the past.

While the story is straightforward enough, there’s a lot of similarities to both Animal Farm and Mad Max in the ideas presented.

Mixed in with a colourful palette, some gorgeous cinematography and a lot of symbolism, Prisoners of the Ghostland feels very much like an arthouse indie project. The trouble is, this is all presented with a distinct lack of action and urgency.

These final two points are the biggest deterrents for this film. It takes a long time for the main plot to get going and even longer for any sort of action to seep into this. The world is certainly engaging and interesting to explore though but it’s not difficult to see why this movie is receiving wildly different reviews both from audiences and critics alike.

For me personally, Prisoners of the Ghostland delivers an intriguing blend of ideas that frustrates as much as it delights. This is one weird film and if you can go in expecting a polarizing experience, you’ll be best prepared for what Nic Cage’s latest project throws at you.

Read More: Prisoners of the Ghostland Ending Explained

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Geek Culture | Movies, TV, Comic Books & Video Games

Movie Review – Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)

September 13, 2021 by Robert Kojder

Prisoners of the Ghostland , 2021.

Directed by Sion Sono. Starring Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya, Young Dais, Lorena Kotô, Canon Nawata, Charles Glover, Cici Zhou, Louis Kurihara, Tetsu Watanabe, Takato Yonemoto, Shin Shimizu, Matthew Chozick, Ilsa, and Yurino.

A notorious criminal must break an evil curse in order to rescue an abducted girl who has mysteriously disappeared.

Much like Nicolas Cage has one of his testicles blown off in Prisoners of the Ghostland , the visually gonzo piece pops my cherry for director Sion Sono. Upfront, I will say the style of influences are there, as the production design combining Westerns and 12th-century Japanese culture (with seemingly more modern interior designs and neon-lit exteriors) is impressionable. It’s made up of equally nifty locations like an old west town run by a sordid and abusive governor with a stranglehold over the Japanese residents, forcing them into sexual servitude. Off in the distance, there is also a post-apocalyptic wasteland affected by a toxic disaster that transformed several convicts into freakishly scarred and burned mutants. Meanwhile, the regular civilians worship a doomsday clock while trying to get by, sometimes dressing up as creepy mannequins too, and that’s if I’m understanding this right, to stay hidden from literal ghosts and other enemies.

Again, it’s evident that plenty of creative madness went into the general concept for Prisoners of the Ghostland (also Sion Sono’s English-language filmmaking debut, using a script from Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai), which only makes it more baffling how uneventful and disengaging 90% of the movie feels. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have spoiled Nicolas Cage losing half of his junk; it’s one of the rare moments something actually happens. Naturally, his reaction is priceless and sure to make the rounds in updated compilations of the legendary star melting down.

Nevertheless, Nicolas Cage, simply known as Hero, appears to be an intentional contradiction as Prisoners of the Ghostland starts with the beloved madman robbing a bank from the aforementioned Samurai Town with his towering and muscular partner dubbed Psycho (Nick Cassavettes). The act of crime does not go as planned, flashing forward sometime later to Hero locked up, leaving viewers to fill in a few predictable blanks. However, he is sprung from confinement by the governor (Bill Moseley looking like Colonel Sanders and chewing the scenery), who gives the task of treading into the dangerous titular Ghostland to bring back his runaway favorite sex slave (Sofia Boutella’s Bernice, strangely unable to speak for a majority of the running time but one of the only talents that come closest to conveying the insanity of the material as a believable human being).

The kicker is that Hero is forced to trade his sumo wrestler underwear for a leather one-piece equipped with bombs (specifically on the neck, shoulders, and testicles) designed to explode if he threatens to harm Bernice or goes against orders. By the end of the second day, Hero must have Bernice speak her name into a microphone so that the governor knows she is still alive. Otherwise, it’s once again bombs away. Between the botched bank robbery, a melting pot of cultures (with hopes it comes together for a desired thematic effect), simple rescue promise, and urgency of bombs outfitted to the protagonist, Prisoners of the Ghostland sets itself up for a journey of nonstop violence and action paying tribute to both Western and Japanese cinematic influences. For whatever reason, the narrative stops dead in its tracks, with exposition and world-building attempts caught up more in style than characterization. Yes, Nicolas Cage is given some goofy dialogue to shout alongside a ludicrous premise for an action movie, but Prisoners of the Ghostland becomes a prisoner to its own over-stylization.

There is also a mysterious right-hand samurai (Tak Sakaguchi) to the governor, biding his time before starting his own rebellion for personal reasons. It’s a subplot that eventually allows for brief satisfying swordplay, but much like Hero, he also has to wait until the final 20 minutes to start painting the walls red. None of this would be bad if the story itself weren’t derivative, dull, and disjointed. It’s always good to see Nicolas Cage combining his zaniness with legitimate character work, but 45 minutes into this one, it becomes apparent that no one has anything worthwhile to do, leaving one craving a rage-Cage performance. The solid technical aspects of the filmmaking are all that make Prisoners of the Ghostland tolerable throughout its languid pacing and listless story.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check  here  for new reviews, follow my  Twitter  or  Letterboxd , or email me at [email protected]


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Prisoners of the ghostland

Running time: 100 minutes. Not rated (language, violence). In theaters and on Amazon Prime Video.

“Prisoners of the Ghostland” is equal parts visual delight and narrative head-scratcher. Most of all, it’s a hefty dose of Nicolas Cage set to full-tilt gonzo.

The most surprising thing? It’s the first movie where Cage has timed explosives strapped to his testicles. It just seems like, you know, something he’d have done by now. 

This carnival of post-apocalyptic tropes sees the pairing of Cage with Japanese auteur Sion Sono (“Love Exposure,” “Tokyo Tribe”) in the director’s first English-language outing. Its trailer features a blurb from the actor calling it “the wildest movie I’ve ever made.” Fair enough, but it’s also a wild movie to try to follow with any sort of logic.

Nicolas Cage goes on a post-apocalyptic mission in "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

In a post-nuclear dystopia, Cage’s character, Hero — in prison for a very un-heroic bank robbery that killed a little kid — is hauled out at the whim of the Governor (Bill Moseley), the campy, white-suited leader of a Wild West-meets-geisha-brothel called Samurai Town. He dispatches Hero to rescue his daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a mysterious zone called the Ghostland — but not before strapping him into the aforementioned explosives, which will shred him if he doesn’t bring her back within five days. It’s a pretty glaring wink at 1981’s sci-fi film “Escape From New York,” one of many genre references throughout. 

What Hero finds in the Ghostland is a community of outcasts, scavengers, quasi-zombies and other survivors, all enslaved to the worship of a giant clock whose hands they must keep from moving. If time starts again, they say, the world will blow up. Some, like Bernice, get sealed up inside old-timey dress-store mannequins. Some, looking like the denizens of the “Mad Max” movies, tinker with scrounged vehicles wearing outfits made of trash. During his rescue mission, Hero attempts to lead them on a Ghostland-exodus revolution, which oddly goes nowhere.

Sofia Boutella plays Bernice, a warlord's kidnapped granddaughter.

I was disappointed the dynamic Boutella didn’t have more to do – she’s kept pretty firmly in the damsel-in-distress role most of the time. Even after she’s pried out of her mannequin shell, Bernice is stuck in a Ghostland-induced catatonia.

If you’re planning to enjoy this film, don’t ask too many questions. Just embrace the spectacle, a mishmash of genres and a riot of color.

Despite Cage turning it up to 11, the one to watch here is Tak Sakaguchi as the Governor’s bodyguard, Yasujiro. His martial artistry is on full display as he takes on any and all challengers in the climactic showdown, even if it’s not totally clear what his allegiances are. Maybe the geishas have the right idea: Relegated to a one-note performance, at least they get to giggle through the whole thing. 

A gaggle of giggling Geishas haunt Nicolas Cage in "Ghostland."


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Prisoners of the ghostland, common sense media reviewers.

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Unhinged Cage in offbeat, violent samurai-Western mashup.

Prisoners of the Ghostland Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Movie is mainly about redemption and forgiveness,

No clear role models. Main character begins as a c

Main character and main villain are both White men

Guns and shooting, including a Gatling gun. Many c

Topless woman briefly seen. Erotic poster (with to

Strong language includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," "

Villain drinks sake in one scene. Dialogue about "

Parents need to know that Prisoners of the Ghostland is a post-apocalyptic samurai-Western-action movie starring Nicolas Cage. It borrows heavily from Escape from New York and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but has its own offbeat sensibility. Violence is extremely strong, with guns and shooting…

Positive Messages

Movie is mainly about redemption and forgiveness, though path to get there involves lots of violence.

Positive Role Models

No clear role models. Main character begins as a criminal and finds redemption, but his methods are violent, brutal. Other characters need to be rescued or are victims, or are flat-out villains.

Diverse Representations

Main character and main villain are both White men (a White man rules a Japanese village), while supporting and secondary characters are largely Japanese. Actress who plays Bernice (Sofia Boutella) is from Algeria. But most female characters are portrayed as either submissive (a gaggle of Japanese women "serve" the governor) or waiting to be rescued from the Ghostland. Men drive this movie.

Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.

Violence & Scariness

Guns and shooting, including a Gatling gun. Many characters are shot. Sword fighting with slicing and stabbing. Lots of blood sprays, pools of blood, etc. Martial arts fighting. Children get shot. Women are harassed and briefly threatened in a sexual manner. Woman's head is sliced off (not shown except for blood spatter on ground). Woman threatened with knife. Knife throwing. Main character's suit-bombs go off; he loses a testicle (he then holds up the severed, bloody testicle) and injures his arm (bloody wound). Zombie attack. Huge explosion. Car crash. Spoken story about a nuclear spill and people burned by the poisonous sludge.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Topless woman briefly seen. Erotic poster (with topless woman) briefly shown in background. Man undressed, nothing explicit shown; a woman "checks him out" and comments "I've seen better." Naked mannequin posed provocatively.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Strong language includes uses of "f--k," "s--t," "motherf----r," "c--ksucker," "bitch," "hell," "balls," "testicle," "badass," "godless sodomites," "dirty slut," "whack job."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Villain drinks sake in one scene. Dialogue about "shots of whiskey."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Prisoners of the Ghostland is a post-apocalyptic samurai-Western-action movie starring Nicolas Cage . It borrows heavily from Escape from New York and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but has its own offbeat sensibility. Violence is extremely strong, with guns and shooting (including a Gatling gun); many characters getting shot and/or killed; sword fighting; slicing; stabbing; blood sprays, spurts, and pools; and martial arts fighting. Children are shot and killed, and women are harassed and threatened in violent and/or sexual ways. An explosive severs a man's testicle; the bloody testicle is shown. There are also zombies, explosions, and more. Language is very strong, too, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and more. There's brief female nudity (bare breasts), and a man undresses -- nothing explicit is shown -- while women comment on his appearance. Brief sake drinking. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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What's the Story?

In PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND, the unnamed hero ( Nicolas Cage ) is a criminal whose partner, Psycho ( Nick Cassavetes ), shoots several bystanders, including a small boy, during a robbery. Unexpectedly, the hero is taken out of prison by the crooked governor (Bill Moseley) and tasked with finding the governor's adopted granddaughter, Bernice ( Sofia Boutella ), who has run away. To ensure that the hero does the job, he's fitted with a suit packed with explosives. If he doesn't finish the job in a certain number of days, the suit will explode. He finds Bernice easily enough, living in a strange, ramshackle city. But he also finds that he's unable to leave because of the nuclear mutants who attack all travelers. Can he find the "hero" within himself and do the right thing?

Is It Any Good?

While it won't be for everyone, this truly bizarre mashup of Westerns and samurai movies, mixed with other bits and pieces, offers a visionary design as well as a thrillingly unhinged Nicolas Cage . Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono , a cult favorite known for Suicide Club (2001) and the equally odd, amazing Love Exposure (2008), makes his English-language debut here (though some Japanese is also spoken). Prisoners of the Ghostland is largely set in what seems like a post-apocalyptic future, or perhaps some alternate reality, where a White man rules a Japanese village that's peopled by both samurai and cowboys, and in an astonishing, ramshackle town, built with random knickknacks. The set design is colorful, and the costumes are incredible.

Plotwise, Prisoners of the Ghostland shamelessly plucks whole ideas from Escape from New York and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome , as well as Ennio Morricone-like music cues, but Sono has enough style of his own that these borrowed items somehow seem to fit. Sono's storytelling likewise takes a pretty straightforward sci-fi/action tale and peppers it with oddities, making it feel like something bracing and even surprising. At the center is Cage (who is unnamed but called "Hero" in the credits), zipped up in his pouchy leather suit with a metal arm brace screwed into place and wearing a broken football helmet. He gives another of the unhinged performances that his fans love; at least this time it goes right along with the rest of the strange fun.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Prisoners of the Ghostland 's violence . How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?

Where and when does this movie seem to take place? Is it in the future (i.e., post-apocalyptic)? Is it some imaginary world? How does the setting impact the story? What does the setting teach us about our own world?

Does the main character find redemption? If so, how? Is he admirable or a role model by the end?

How are women treated in the movie? Are any of the women characters three-dimensional or powerful?

Does Ghostland look like a good place to live? How do these scenes demonstrate cooperation and working together?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : September 17, 2021
  • On DVD or streaming : September 17, 2021
  • Cast : Nicolas Cage , Sofia Boutella , Bill Moseley
  • Director : Sion Sono
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors, Middle Eastern/North African actors
  • Studio : RLJE Films
  • Genre : Action/Adventure
  • Run time : 103 minutes
  • MPAA rating : NR
  • Last updated : June 20, 2023

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prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

Prisoners Of The Ghostland Review

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Nicolas Cage recently delivered what many are calling a career-best performance in drama Pig , which showcased a side of the actor that many people had forgotten even existed. It was quiet, introspective and a powerful reminder that the Academy Award winner isn’t all about bug-eyed mania and eccentric vocal deliveries; he’s a committed, chameleonic and intensely talented performer.

Now imagine the exact opposite, and you’re nowhere near halfway to imagining what Prisoners of the Ghostland is. This is Cage at his most unhinged and scenery-devouring. And yet, it’s still another fantastic turn from the resurgent actor, even if he most definitely wasn’t lying when he said this might be the most insane movie he’s ever been a part of .

Trying to describe Prisoners of the Ghostland is difficult to say the least, simply because there’s so much going on at any one time that it barely pauses for breath across the 103-minute running time. Cage stars as Hero, a violent criminal being held captive in the post-apocalyptic village of Samurai Town, a place that’s the aesthetic love child of Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. This doesn’t factor into the plot in the slightest; it’s just there for no real meaningful reason other than looking cool.

Freed from the local jail by B-movie legend Bill Moseley’s Governor, Hero is entrusted with a special task. He needs to venture out into the wilds beyond Samurai Town to rescue the Governor’s granddaughter from a cabal of feral natives. So far, so standard, right? Not quite. Our protagonist is then strapped into a leather jumpsuit with explosives at the arms, neck and testicles. If he fails to complete his mission within the allocated timeframe, he’ll go boom. Immediately, Hero discards the car provided to set off on a children’s bicycle instead. Again; this happens for no discernible reason.

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

You may have heard rumors about Prisoners of the Ghostland featuring one of the most Nicolas Cage scenes ever, and the whispers are all true. At one stage, and it can’t be stressed enough that there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever for a lot of things that happen in the movie, he screams the word “testicles” for roughly fifteen seconds. It’s a guttural yell that on the surface exists solely to create another batch of memes, but it’s nonetheless glorious in its execution and delivery.

Director Sion Sono is regarded as a provocateur, so by his usual standards, Prisoners of the Ghostland is positively restrained. There are sword fights, hallucinogenic visions, zombies, ghosts, a ramshackle city inhabited by scavengers, people punished by being trapped inside mannequin-esque plaster molds, nuclear holocausts, influences that range from the aforementioned Kurosawa and Leone to Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Terry Gilliam, George Miller and more, neon-drenched backdrops, vast open plains, bizarre needle drops, haunting imagery, some beautiful cinematography and bursts of violent and highly-stylized action with blood geysers aplenty.

Make no mistake, Prisoners of the Ghostland is batsh*t insane. Is it a crazy Nicolas Cage movie, or a crazy movie that Nicolas Cage coincidentally signed on for, though? It would be just as wild if anybody else played the lead role, so it’s probably the latter, but we’re talking about cinema’s premiere avant-garde A-lister clad head-to-toe in leather, wearing a football helmet and wielding a blade attached to his arm that he uses to slice and dice his way through a pack of enemies, so you’re either fully on board with the premise or you need to steer well clear.

It’s in essence a very standard point A to point B and back again rescue story, but everything that happens in between is something that’s equal parts madness and brilliance. Sono and Cage knew exactly what they were doing, and they’ve handled the wild tonal shifts and gonzo genre mashups with no shortage of style and finesse, but it’s hard to see Prisoners of the Ghostland becoming much more than a cult classic.

People are going to check it out because they want to see Nicolas Cage lose his mind, and he does that on numerous occasions, but there isn’t much beneath the surface of Prisoners of the Ghostland for more discerning viewers to sink their teeth into. You could come up with ten different interpretations of what it’s all supposed to mean in the grand scheme of things, and they’re all more than likely to be a million miles wide of the mark.

That being said, if you strap in tight and prepare for a wild ride, there are ten tonnes of fun to be had watching the singular and unique vision of an uncompromising (and almost certainly missing a screw or two) filmmaker strike a deft balance with the only leading man in the business capable of getting onto the same level.

Red Hulk throws Cap's shield into the ground in Captain America: Brave New World

Prisoners Of The Ghostland Review: The Age Of Cage

Hero standing in the street

The marketing team for "Prisoners of the Ghostland," the latest film from director Sion Sono ("Love Exposure," "Tokyo Vampire Hotel"), has wisely latched on to star Nicolas Cage 's own declaration that the movie might be "the wildest" project in his entire career. That's saying something coming from a guy who's done everything from "Vampire's Kiss" to "Mandy," and if you follow Cage because you want to see him in pure, unhinged, genre movie God-mode, "Prisoners of the Ghostland" looks like exactly the kind of film primed to deliver those particular goods.

But there's more to Nicolas Cage than the amount of time he spends pulling face and wailing into the camera, and I'm not just talking about the incredible pairing that is Cage's daring style and Sono's knack for visuals. "Prisoners of the Ghostland" is arriving in the same year as "Pig," a film that brilliantly showcases a more subdued, but no less intense, version of Cage, providing an important contrast that, in the end, heightens the impact of both films. Rich with visual dynamism, featuring bold supporting performances, and driven by the boiler room of Cage's own voracious appetite for diving into roles, "Prisoners of the Ghostland" is an all-out cinematic onslaught that you'll be recovering from for quite some time.

The (Ghost)land that time forgot

The setup for the film, written by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai, is actually rather simple. In a post-apocalyptic future town dominated by geisha and samurai culture, a man known only as Hero (Cage) is dragged out of jail to run an errand for a domineering local warlord known only as the Governor (Bill Moseley). It seems the Governor's "granddaughter," Bernice (Sofia Boutella), has fled his company and struck out into the deadly realms known only as the Ghostland, and he wants Hero to bring the girl back. To ensure Hero complies and doesn't just run off on his own, the Governor outfits him with a leather body suit equipped with a few carefully placed explosive devices: A couple on the neck, one on each arm ... and one on each testicle. With just days to complete his mission, Hero ventures out into the wild Ghostlands, and finds another world full of not just new threats, but new meaning that he perhaps didn't expect to encounter.

With this setup, Sono's efforts as a stylist pay off immediately, rendering "Prisoners of the Ghostland" something that looks and feels unlike any other post-apocalyptic movie you've seen, and creating the sense that no matter how tired of the subgenre are, you'll find something surprising at work here. Hendry and Safai's script, and by extension Sono's direction, is steeped in a hybridization of American Western cinema and Samurai film, and then that strange stew is perfumed with the wastelands of George Miller and the pageantry of John Woo. From the glowing streets of the Governor's domain to the mannequin-littered Ghostlands, the film is a visual feast, and nearly every frames to hold the potential for an entirely different movie lurking in the background.

But there's more to "Prisoners of the Ghostland" and its place in this particular subgenre than just inventive, immersive visuals. There's a tonal distinctiveness to the film beyond how it looks, cemented by Sono's pacing, the deliberate dialogue of Hendry and Safai's script, and the ways in which everyone from Boutella to Moseley chooses to deliver that dialogue. The Ghostland, the film tells us, is a realm in which time has (literally, metaphorically, or both, depending on who you choose to believe) stopped, because it had to, because to move forward would spell doom for everyone. There are larger narrative reasons for this that I won't spoil here, tied to systems of power and the people who perpetuate them to keep control, but tonally it creates the sense that nearly everyone in the film is devoted to maintaining a certain static, monolithic presence. It's a feeling that runs through the film's diction, its costuming, its production design, and even the way in which the action sequences play out. In a world where everyone is frozen in place, "Prisoners of the Ghostland” becomes a story about the few people who are daring to move forward, and the price they pay for that.

Committed performances

One of those people daring to push ahead and a world that's standing still is, of course, Cage's Hero, and while this performance will undoubtedly go down as one of Cage's great works of mayhem, I think there's more going on here than many audiences will be liable to give him credit for. Yes, he plays the big moments big, and the comedy broad, and he's not afraid to get loud and even wacky when the moment calls for it, but there's something else happening too. There's an element in just about every Nicolas Cage performance — take your pick from "Raising Arizona" to "Pig" to "Con Air" — of absolute conviction, of the sense that no matter how unhinged the movie around him is, and how far he goes with his voice or his mannerism, he's going to make you believe it. It doesn't always work, but he feels to me like one of cinema's great daredevils, a guy determined to find the truth and soul in just about anything. "Prisoners of the Ghostland" is the kind of movie that calls for daredevils, and Cage makes it count, injecting a real sense of pathos and power in Hero's journey (get it?) that makes the movie even more compelling than Sono's visuals already made it.

But of course, he's far from alone in that journey, and Boutella is willing to go toe-to-toe with him along it. Her role's not as flashy, but she makes her moments count with flashes of vulnerability timed perfectly alongside raw power. Throw in an impossibly cool performance from Tak Sakaguchi as the Governor's enforcer Yasujiro, and Moseley using his natural born scene-stealer gifts to turn the Governor into an unforgettable villain, and you've got an ensemble piece that crackles with personality even when Cage isn't in the frame.

"Prisoners of the Ghostland" will undoubtedly not land for everyone. There are moviegoers who will find it a little too over the top, a little too obsessed with its own peculiar tone, and even a little slow at times as Sono and company pursue little thematic avenues alongside the main thrust of the plot. If it works for you, though, it really works. This is uncompromising, unapologetic, unhinged cinema spectacle, and proves once again that Nicolas Cage is one of genre film's greatest assets.

"Prisoners of the Ghostland" is in theaters and on VOD Friday.

The 15 Best Nicolas Cage Movies

Here's the cream of the crop from awesome, over-the-top oscar-winner, nic cage..

The 15 Best Nicolas Cage Movies - IGN Image

He's been praised, applauded, mocked, and maligned, but no matter what, Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage has given his everything; pouring his heart and soul into each movie role he's had. Occasionally his go-for-broke creative choices have led him into the heart of Meme Country, but there's no denying Cage's vigorous, explosive talent.

He's been in acclaimed rom-coms, soul-crushing dramas, and of course, some of the biggest and best action hits of the 1990s. Nic Cage's resume is so dense in fact, that we've allowed this "Best Of" to go to 15 , rather than the usual top 10. He's worked with powerhouse directors like David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, and his own uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, turning in some of the most memorable performances in movie history. Speaking of memorable, be sure to also see 40 best Nicolas Cage moments written by a Cage superfan who has seen every Nic Cage film.

Having tackled every genre there is in his four decades of acting; whether it's saving San Francisco from a chemical gas attack or heading to Las Vegas for a lethal bender to — well, play himself — in a meta-adventure about his own career, these are our picks for Nicolas Cage's best movies ever.

Having tackled every genre there is in his four decades of acting, here's a quick look at Nicolas Cage's Top 15 films - from saving San Francisco from a chemical gas attack to heading to Las Vegas for a lethal bender to -- well -- playing himself in a meta-adventure about his own career.

15. Color Out of Space (2020)

Color Out of Space

Nicolas Cage's output may have increased in recent years due to him having to pay down money owed to the IRS but that never meant he still didn't manage to average at least one pretty great film each year during this deluge. In 2019, his best work, and the only one of his nine movies that year to get theatrical release, was Richard Stanley's hypnotic gross-out Color Out of Space, based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story. Cage plays a father who, along with his wife and kids, succumb to the cosmic forces of a glowing meteor that crashes on their farm. It's a grim, ghastly horror trip that should definitely be included in your Spooky Season marathons.

Read our Color Out of Space review .

14. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

<strong>The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent</strong>

Nicolas Cage found himself in a bit of a career resurgence in 2022 as recent critical indifference sort of spun full circle into a newfound appreciation as the loopy, delightful film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent hit theaters and Cage delighted audiences as a pompously sweet version of himself, getting caught up in an comedic espionage adventure after accepting a million bucks to attend a wealthy super-fan’s birthday bash. The film works as an absurdly fun and winking bookend for Cage's career (which isn't over yet, of course).

Read our The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Review .

13. Kick-Ass (2010)


Cage wasn't the headlining star of Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, a full-throttle adaptation of the Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. comic series, but he stood out in a super-duper supporting role as Big Daddy, the Batman-style vigilante who raised his daughter, Hit-Girl, to be just as violently unforgiving of crime as he was. Cage got to pass his action hero torch to a new crew of young in this pre-MCU hero-verse of Rated R mayhem.

Read our Kick-Ass review .

12. Red Rock West (1993)

Red Rock West

After an impressive debut run in the '80s, Nic Cage's '90s were an eclectic mix of blockbusters, rom-com chaos, and gritty crime dramas — much like Red Rock West, from neo-noir notable John Dahl. Cage played a down-on-his-luck discharged Marine whose search for honest work in Wyoming plunges him into a murder-for-hire mess between Dennis Hopper, J.T. Walsh, and Lara Flynn Boyle. This suspenseful gem featured more of a subdued "everyman" performance from Cage, leading him into bigger action hero roles down the line.

11. Pig (2021)


Cage garnered some of the best reviews of his career, and even some Oscar buzz, for 2021's Pig, the surprisingly moving story about an isolated Oregon truffle-hunter whose beloved pig gets kidnapped. It's a mesmerizing odyssey about love and loss that deftly plays against expectations, reminding us how completely captivating Nic Cage can be in sad, subtle roles.

Read our Pig review .

10. Con Air (1997)

Con Air

Con-Air is an absolutely preposterous joy ride from start to finish. As a fast-moving blast-em-up, Con Air keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek as Cage, and his wind blown hair, embody Cameron Poe, an Army Ranger who gets convicted of manslaughter and must hitch a ride aboard a prison transport plane full of the worst criminals imaginable. When John Malkovich's psycho mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom takes over the flight, it puts Poe's plans to reunite with his wife and daughter in danger, causing this terse Terminator to fight back. It's a rambunctious, over-the-top classic.

9. Wild at Heart (1990)

Wild at Heart

Cage and co-star Laura Dern sizzled and steamed as Sailor and Lula in David Lynch's unbridled romance, Wild at Heart. It's a sultry love-on-the-run dark comedy that allowed Cage and Dern to tap into their craziness while also bringing Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" into heavy rotation on MTV. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, Wild at Heart is an insane must-see, as polarizing as a Lynch film can get.

8. National Treasure (2004)

National Treasure

The first of Cage's two mini-franchises (the other being Ghost Rider), National Treasure was Indiana Jones with United States history. Cage leads as treasure hunter and cryptographer while Benjamin Gates must steal the Declaration of Independence in order to keep hidden gold out of the hands of a crime boss. It's a strong, delightfully dorky family adventure outing for Cage, who dedicated most of his career to the offbeat and outlandish.

Read our National Treasure review .

7. The Rock (1996)

The Rock

The Rock is one of the purest, most perfect '90s Michael Bay extravaganzas, with Cage and Sean Connery teaming up to thwart domestic terrorists' plans to annihilate the Bay Area. Cage got to mix his quirky indie film comedy chops into an underdog action hero as Stanley Goodspeed, a biochemist in over his head. He's surrounded by actual soldiers meant to protect him and rises to the occasion by becoming a full champion. The Rock, as awesome and grandiose as it was, solidified Cage as a viable player in the realm of mega-movies.

6. Mandy (2018)


Cage's superior, standout film from 2018 — that wasn't a voice role in either Teen Titans Go! To the Movies or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — was the psychedelic madhouse Mandy. The film is about a peaceful logger, Red, living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest in the '80s, whose life gets horrifically upended by a deranged cult. Red then spirals into surreal rampage of vengeance, armed with with a crossbow and axe. Mandy is artful gonzo violence mixed with feral performances and altered states. It's one of Cage's most triumphant modern flicks.

Read our Mandy review .

5. Raising Arizona (1987)

Raising Arizona

One of Cage's first starring roles came in one of the Coen Brothers' first feature films, Raising Arizona. As perpetual convict H.I. McDunnough, Cage emanated cartoonish sweetness as he and Holly Hunter's Edwina helped themselves to one of a local couples' newborn pentuplets (Nathan Jr., we think) because the paper said "they got more than they can handle." What follows is the most joyful, rollicking, absurd movie about — er — child kidnapping ever, that both solidified Cage as a formidably funny performer and the Coens as cockeyed craftsmen.

Read our Raising Arizona review .

4. Valley Girl (1983)

Valley Girl

In Nic Cage's second-ever movie, he landed his first starring role as one half of a star-crossed rom-com duo. 1983's Valley Girl was key in introducing "valley" culture (and "valleyspeak") to the rest of America, as Deborah Foreman plays picture-perfect Julie of the materialistic, mall-obsessed San Fernando Valley. You can guess what comes next as Julie falls for the brooding Hollywood punk, Randy (Cage). It's an adorable, amiable, young love story that showcased Cage's charisma and locked him into wonderful romantic lead roles for years following.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas

Nicolas Cage became one of the few, elite performers in the business to win a Best Actor Oscar. Cage was awarded this for Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas, a powerful piece of '90s grime about a man with a sad, singular plan: go to Las Vegas and drink yourself to death. Co-starring Elisabeth Shue (who received a Best Actress nomination), Leaving Las Vegas is a hard, heavy watch, but also a crucial, excellent example of yesteryear indie cinema. It's riveting and dark portrait of self-destruction.

2. Moonstruck (1987)


At only 22 years old, Nic Cage made a huge, hilarious splash opposite Cher in the Oscar-nominated box office hit, Moonstruck. This instant classic rom-com features Cher as a widow, Loretta, who thinks her love life is cursed, while Cage plays the wily, resentful brother of Loretta's new fiancé. Loretta learns to believe in impulsive, passionate love in this winning, endearing love story that gave us one of Cage's earliest, and best, over-the-top line deliveries. Moonstruck, like Cage himself, is timeless.

1. Face/Off (1997)


Face/Off is considered by many to be the "ultimate John Woo movie" for several reasons. Firstly, it employs all of the director’s Hong Kong cinema hallmarks (double guns, doves, guns drawn on each other, etc.) but it also fully engages in its preposterous premise to the point where you're in, baby. You don't question it for a second and just go along for the insane ride. On top of this, Nic Cage, and co-star John Travolta, were two of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time, and this film squeezes them for all the dopamine delivery they’re worth. These two got to play both hero and villain in the same movie, even unleashing slight impersonations of each other in the process; and for Cage, it was a chance to showcase every operatic ability he brings to the table as an actor.

Upcoming Nicolas Cage Movies

Nicolas Cage's acting career continues on in earnest with multiple upcoming films. Most recently, he starred in the film Sympathy for the Devil , which released on July 28, 2023. You can read our Sympathy for the Devil review here . Below, you can see what's coming up next for the actor this year and in the years ahead:

  • The Retirement Plan - TBD, 2023
  • Dream Scenario - 2024
  • Sand and Stones - 2024
  • Longlegs - 2024
  • Arcadian - 2024

What is your #1 Nic Cage film? Let us know in the comments.

Matt Fowler is a freelance entertainment writer/critic, covering TV news, reviews, interviews and features on IGN for 13+ years.

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Prisoners: Why The Alternate Ending Wasn’t Right For The Film

10 best movies like vanished into the night, vanished into the night cast & character guide.

  • "Vanished into the Night" on Netflix is a thriller similar to "Prisoners" starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
  • Both films center on the theme of missing children, but "Prisoners" has a better Rotten Tomatoes score.
  • "Prisoners" directed by Denis Villeneuve stars Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki and is available for purchase on various platforms.

Netflix's Vanished into the Night is rising to the top of the streaming service's charts shortly following its premiere, and the film's spike in popularity raises memories of a Jake Gyllenhaal movie from 13 years ago that contains similar themes. The 2024 Italian thriller film, directed by Renato De Maria and written by Francesca Marciano and Luca Infascelli, chronicles the disappearance of a soon-to-be-divorced couple's two young children while they were staying with their father. Shortly after they go missing, the couple receives a menacing phone call from a man demanding 150,000 euros in exchange for the kids.

The cast of Vanished into the Night includes Riccardo Scamarcio as Pietro La Torre, Annabelle Wallis as Elena Walgren, Massimiliano Gallo as Nicola, Gaia Coletti as Bianca, and Lorenzo Ferrante as Giovanni. Netflix's popular Italian movie is based on Patxi Amezcua and Alejo Flah's Argentine-Spanish film 7th Floor ( Séptimo ) , and is, thankfully, not inspired by a true story. Vanished into the Night is one of many crime thrillers following a kidnapping and a ransom, but its story is quite similar to a critically acclaimed movie starring Gyllenhaal.

Jake Gyllenhaal's Prisoners Is Another Crime Thriller About Families Searching For Their Missing Kids

Prisoners was released on september 20, 2013.

Prisoners , directed by Denis Villeneuve , was released in 2013 and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Detective Loki, the law enforcement officer assigned to the case of two missing girls. Similar to Vanished into the Night, Villeneuve's thriller features dark themes and shocking twists all while showcasing the lengths parents will go to protect their children. Of course, the two stories aren't identical, but if someone enjoyed Vanished into the Night, they should watch Prisoners because of their related themes and premises.

Prisoners is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV, or Fandango.

Aside from Gyllenhaal, the cast of Prisoners consists of many other notable actors, including Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, and Maria Bello. They all came together to make a captivating kidnapping thriller movie that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats until the very last minutes, just like Vanished into the Night. However, the two films diverge in one significant way.

Prisoners alternate ending was not right for the film hugh jackman jake gyllenhaal

The alternate ending for Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners would have undermined the film's "show, don't tell" style that defined the mystery thriller.

How Vanished Into The Night's Reviews Compare To Prisoners

Prisoners' rotten tomatoes score is much better.

Whereas critics gave Prisoners positive reviews and high praise, the same cannot be said for Vanished into the Night. Jake Gyllenhaal's 2013 thriller has an 81 percent Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes, while the 2024 Netflix film has a 40 percent score. Prisoners was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars and received several other awards, and the same cannot be said for the Italian movie. Despite the negative reviews, Vanished into the Night is still worth watching , as is Prisoners, for its suspense and high entertainment value.

Vanished Into the Night (2024) - Poster

Vanished Into the Night (2024)

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Elena, an American psychiatrist, moves to Italy for love but faces heartbreak and custody battles. When their children vanish while with their father, Pietro, they receive a ransom demand. Desperation drives them to race against time to save their kids, navigating tension and old wounds along the way​.

Vanished Into the Night (2024)

prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews

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The Firing Squad

Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Sorbo, and James Barrington in The Firing Squad (2024)

Based on the true story of three Christian prisoners who face execution their joy in Christ stuns the entire prison camp. Based on the true story of three Christian prisoners who face execution their joy in Christ stuns the entire prison camp. Based on the true story of three Christian prisoners who face execution their joy in Christ stuns the entire prison camp.

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  • Cuba Gooding Jr.
  • 21 Critic reviews

Official Trailer of 'The Firing Squad'

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Edmund Kwan

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  • Adam Markman
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  • Trivia The filmmakers have been supported by Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), Calvary Chapel, Pastor Greg Laurie, NACC, Baptist Press, Christian Cinema, NRB, Kay Arthur, Precept Ministries, The Christian Post, The Fish Radio, Rebecca St. James, Family Christian, Lifeway Christian Resources, Talbot Seminary, Biola University, Dallas Theological Seminary, Baptist News, Daystar TV, Evangelical Press Assn, and Life Surge.
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prisoners of the ghostland movie reviews


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