I had planned to review Kate, the new Netflix action John Wick inspired film, but it sucked. The only film worth reviewing was Malignant, but Reels already called dibs on that one. So I waited until the new Nic Cage movie came out.
If you don’t know, I’m slightly obsessed with Mandy, and ever since, I’ve been anticipating every new release he does. Which brings us to Prisoners of the Ghostland, maybe the most bizarre film Cage has done since working with David Lynch.
Believe it or not, this first bit of Asian western I’ve dipped my toes in, as in 2007, Thailand released Tears of the Black Tiger. I remember loving it when it came out, but I haven’t thought about it until today while running through possible Asian western genre inspired films I’ve come across.
The other western that came to mind was Takashi Miike’s western called Sukiyaki Western Django. Oddly enough, I think it also came out in 2007.
It was kind of a play on words with the “spaghetti” western, Italian made cowboy films. I never found out what sukiyaki was but my guess is the Japanese equivalent of spaghetti.
So where does Ghostland fall? Well, it’s more Miike than anything else. However it was giving me Six String Samurai vibes in places.
I’m not going to lie and say I was following along with the plot every inch of the way. It might seem simplistic and maybe it was, but the way it was told was just so damn strange.
I’m a fan of this director, Sion Sono, which is another reason I was excited to learn Cage would be working with him.
There are a handful of films by this director I can confidently say are worth seeing. Love Exposure being his 4 hour epic, might even say his masterpiece and another film called Why Don’t You Play in Hell? that is also pretty fantastic.
I could be here all day listing things he has done worth seeing, but you should explore his body of work on your own and see for yourself.
He does at times lean into the strange. The bizarre. The arty farty. Out of everything I’ve seen, Ghostland might be the most out there of his movies. And I’m not just saying that because Nic Cage gets his nuts blown off.
I believe that sometimes when you lack a budget, you try to overcompensate with leaning heavily into the arthouse bullshit. And this movie screams of both. A lack of budget and arthouse bullshit.
I could be wrong, but it seemed like they couldn’t either, because of budget restrictions or COVID restriction, do what they wanted to do, so the director had to settle for whatever he could.
I could be totally wrong, but I couldn’t shake the feeling something was lacking while watching Ghostland. There’s only about 4 different locations and they all look like sets. Nothing felt lived in or real.
They prettied them up somewhat with more weirdness, but everything seemed so alien and unnatural to me, making it hard to connect with this world they were trying to build.
It was also really hard to get a read on everyone in the film as not a single person acted like they didn’t just escape from an insane asylum. So much so, Nic Cage seemed like the normal calm one of the group. First rule of fightclub should always be, don’t try to out Cage the Cage.
All that aside, obviously I wanted to see this film purely based on the fact Nic Cage stars in it. That’s just how I am now after Mandy. Though technically that’s kind of always been the story, as I’ve always been a giant fanboy.
But not an unapologetic one, as I’ll call him out when his movies fucking suck, and trust me, like Bruce Willis, he has starred in some pretty crappy films.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is a different beast. A Japanese western, post apocalyptic… c’mon. Obviously I’m going to see this movie. I had plans to watch this way back when it was premiering on… damn, some film festival. I can’t remember which one it was and I’m too lazy to look it up. It was a big one, that was purely online this year because of the pandemic.
But sadly all the tickets for the showing were sold out.
In a strange twist of fate however, on the anniversary of Mandy getting released, I had a chance to watch Prisoners of the Ghostland.
I knew I should have dampened my excitement a bit to fit more realistic expectations, considering some of the reviews.
But it’s hard to do that when not only do the trailers look fun, but just the idea of Nic Cage basically playing Snake Plissken from Escape from New York is too much to pass over.
Instead of poison, Cage has to wear a leather suit with explosives attached to it, set to go off if he manhandles the girl he’s sent to rescue or blow his balls off if he gets too horny.
I’m glad they didn’t shy away from ever using it, as most films would have just introduced it but shied away with ever actually making the main character get his nuts blown off.
I don’t believe a year is ever given, time doesn’t really seem to matter much in this movie anyways. We are introduced to Cage’s character… who I don’t believe has a name. On IMDB it just says “Hero”. Not sure I really want to call him that, as he’s basically anything but a hero.
It’s kind of hard to get a read on his character, at times he seems very stoic. Other times he seems like an idiot. Other times he seems like a madman. Other times he seems like the only sane person in the room.
Only thing I do know about him is he’s a bank robber. Him and his pal Psycho rob this small Japanese bank, but it goes horribly wrong when Psycho decides to live up to his name and shoot a kid, followed by everyone else in the room.
This event we learn happens years ago, yet Cage still seems to have that jet black dyed hair. Which at this point does look ridiculous, especially the beard where you can see the outline of gray at times poking out.
Years later, Cage is arrested by the sheriff of another bizarre Japanese town run by the Governor played by horror icon Bill Moseley.
You know what’s funny, when they announced the actor playing The Governor for the Walking Dead, I thought they meant Bill Moseley and not David Morrissey.
I thought, wow, perfect casting as he’d be perfect for the role. Obviously I was mistaken, but years later I do feel slightly vindicated as my initial thought was correct. He’s a great Governor. Not the one I was thinking of, but still…
So this town he governs over, it seem to mostly consist of brothels and samurai cowboys. I imagine it’s what El Rey looks like from From Dusk Till Dawn.
In this town wide brothel, one of the Governor’s favorite girls Bernice has run away and feared to have been… I want to say captured by ghosts?
It kind of makes more sense later on, but if I’m totally wrong about this, don’t get mad.
Cage is tasked with going to this supposed ghostland to bring Bernice back before his suit detonates, killing him. Though in a few scenes you can clearly see the top clasp of his suit keeps coming undone. It’s clear as day and just made me shake my head and laugh, like c’mon, guys. How rushed were you in making this?
The weirdness starts almost immediately, as Cage is given the keys to a car, which he drives for a split second, only to jump out and just ride a girl’s bicycle instead.
Maybe they thought it was funny. But it made no sense whatsoever. He knows how pressed for time he is, so taking a bike was just stupid. But making the scene even more pointless, the silent samurai that works for The Governor stops and delivers him the car again, this time taking it.
Now in a film like this, it takes you on a little journey to get to your destination. Finding your target usually comes with some strife. But almost immediately he gets to his destination, only to crash and get taken to the ghostland where Bernice is.
And by immediately I mean, a second after he leaves. They make it seem like the ghostland is just down the road from them.
At this point the movie was reminding me of this fun late 80’s supernatural western called Ghost Town. Sameish plot, girl gets taken by ghosts to a ghost town where a sheriff must hunt her down and free not just her, but the cursed townsfolk.
The story of these disbanded people is told via picture show, kind of like the kids gave Max in Beyond Thunderdome.
Basically, a bus carrying prisoners crashes into a truck carrying radioactive material, setting off a nuclear explosion.
The one in that prison bus was Cage’s old friend Psycho. I guess ever since they’ve been taking people to this ghost town, trapping them there, unable for anyone to leave.
But honestly not much is really done with this. The main villain is still the Governor who we keep cutting back to for no real reason, as he doesn’t do anything.
The only thing of note to the story is when a couple of bounty hunters bring one of the girls that escaped with Bernice to him, proceeding to chop her head off.
I’m still not completely sure why he decided to pick/force Cage’s character for this task. Governor gives some excuse about how he was able to evade capture from authorities for so long, but he’s telling this to him while his hands are in shackles.
Cage is just a bank robber with in infamous reputation for being involved in a slaughter, I don’t see why The Governor would waste his time on him when he clearly has bounty hunters at the ready.
We eventually learn that Bernice was actually orphaned because of Cage, as her mom was killed during the shootout when the bank heist went tits up.
That’s when The Governor showed up and took her in to his brothel.
Every time Cage tries to leave the ghostland, which consists of a bombed out building with the clock from Back to the Future in it, that men are actively trying to stop from counting down as things will explode or something… it’s a town hit by a nuke, so I guess they’re ghosts…
Anyway, this doesn’t really have much to do with anything as this is quickly resolved and Cage is allowed to leave.
There was even this whole scene before that where they ready a bunch of junked cars to be driven out of the ghostland, but from what I remember they never used them to leave.
The story boils down to Cage and Bernice getting their revenge on the Gov and the folks in town. Which leads to a giant fight that seemed kind of poorly choreographed.
Like Cage’s suit and some of the costumes, it felt super rushed.
I honestly don’t know what to rate this. Maybe RENT or I’m leaning more towards a SKIP. It kind of depends on how you feel about Cage and weirdo Japanese films.
Next time you hear from me, it will be October. You know what that means! HORROR MONTH, BABY!!
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