GORE IN THE STORE
PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND **
Directed by Sion Sono.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley.
Science-Fiction, US/Japan, 103 minutes.
Streaming on Shudder from November 19th.
Cult cinema fans rejoiced when the news of a collaboration between Nicolas Cage and Sion Sono was announced. Bringing together one of American cinemas most singular stars and a Japanese director whose prolific back catalogue contains a post-dystopian rap musical and a horror about murderous hair extensions among many other oddities sounded like a match made in gonzo Heaven. The premise, Cage wandering into a post-apocalyptic wasteland to rescue a woman whilst kitted out in a self-destructive leather suit, seemed to promise so much, especially after Cage’s recent hot streak that has included the doom-laden psychedelia of MANDY and PIG a film with what sounded like a ridiculous premise and ended up being one of the year’s most touching films, thanks in no small part to Cage’s soulful performance.
Long-time fans of Cage know however that his efforts can vary wildly, from the ridiculous to the sublime, sometimes in a single scene and Prisoners of the Ghostland sounded like it could fall on either side of the quality divide. It is sad to report then that while it is a long way off from the bottom of the barrel regarding its leading man’s filmography there is little here to grab the attention, especially also for fans of Sono.
Set in an unspecified time and land that mixes up Japanese and American cultures with a village that is home to numerous geishas and cowboys we follow Bernice, escaping from this surreal environment much to the displeasure of her father The Governor, a drawling Bill Moseley, who enlists Nicolas Cage’s imaginatively named Hero to track her down and bring her back. A time limit is set, and Hero is secured within a leather suit equipped with explosives, most notably around his testicles, that will explode if he fails or deviates from his quest. Tracking Bernice down, Hero soon finds that things are not what they seem and Bernice has her own reasons for wanting to stay in the irradiated Ghostland where time is behaving in strange ways.
What sounds like a straight-ahead action movie plot is instead a bizarre and mannered project that has theatrical touches running throughout it. Audiences expecting something more straight-forward will no doubt find themselves frustrated with its drawn-out bare bones storyline. Cage himself seems less than enthused with proceedings, giving a sleepy performance that only springs into life after suffering through a detonation in a particularly sensitive area. Even during the films climatic action scenes, the presence of a stand-in doubling for him is readily apparent leaving the heavy lifting of the films more physical elements to frequent Sono collaborator Tak Sakaguchi who may also be familiar to Western audiences from Ryuhei Kitamura’s VERSUS, here playing a sword wielding bodyguard. Sofia Boutella also gives a disappointingly laid-back performance that is a world away from her more physical performances in the likes of CLIMAX and HOTEL ARTEMIS.
Sono’s stretched out style, that manages somehow to be both composed at a relaxed pace and pitched at a hysterical level will no doubt find its admirers who tune to its particular pitch but they will no doubt be outnumbered by those who wanted and expected their usual dose of Cage Rage in a more balls to the walls style that the film’s star and its director have both accomplished numerous times before getting together here.