2021 Sundance Review: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Director(s): Sion Sono

Writer(s): Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai

Cast: Nic Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes

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

Oscar-winning actor Nic Cage has found a niche over the past few years of trying to play the most insane characters he can imagine. I think this is his most natural role in so long. In what Nic Cage called “The wildest movie [he] ever made”, he truly did not disappoint. Cage plays an, even more, insane version of Mad Max as he is the Hero who has to go find the Governor’s (Bill Moseley) granddaughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella). He pulls directly from classic Westerns and kicks these characters up to an 11. He doesn’t say much, but when he does you are completely taken in with what he is saying. Cage is bombastic, eccentric, and has an insane look in his from start to finish. We are in awe of what he is doing, while also terrified of him as well.

While I think the movie can work without Cage in it, I think Cage is what made it so well. I hope Sion Sono uses him more int he future, maybe in some sort of Samurai/Western trilogy, because I think the two were made for each other. Cage brings that extra amount of oomph this film might have needed, but in Sono’s case, I believe Cage will be able to bring in a wider audiences that he might not have found with a different actor in the lead.

This movie truly is not as wild in action and gore as it is in a more metaphorical sense. This film might be one of the best satirical takedowns of the Western Genre and Western Culture that I have seen. Whether it be in some of the beautiful, and Oscar-worthy, production design that includes western towns, ghost towns, and hidden posters that say things like “Make Chicken Great Again”, or in the, just as Oscar-worthy, costumes that show the divide between a Samurai movie and a Western, the film is directly calling out American Idolization as well as their ideas of colonization, and the belief to take a cultures niche and call it theirs.

For how insane this film is, if you start to look deeper into it, the satirical nature of this movie really begins to come through. It might seem pointless to an extent, but it is genius in the way it calls out and takes shots at how Westerners will take people from their lands and then try to twist them into thinking they are the higher power. It plays on the American presumption that every country is looking up to them and uses a lot of America’s own tropes against it in such a grand way. Don’t take this film at face value, because there is so much more that you can pull from it.

I have never seen a Sion Sono film, but after watching this I think I want to. In his first English film, he creates such a bizarre and extravagant atmospheric movie that finds so much depth in the truly wild moments. It has a pulsating score that was placed throughout, and his use of “Time in a Bottle” was an insanely perfect needle drop. What I think he crafted here is a film that is bound to be an instant Cage classic. It won’t be for everyone, as this is definitely a “love it or leave it” movie, but I loved it, and think it is a great piece of whacky cinema.

Final: For how insane Prisoners of the Ghostland is, it is just as smart. Nic Cage, playing an even more insane Mad Max, leads a satirical takedown of westerns and western culture. This was a downright fun and crazy film that had beautiful, and Oscar-worthy, set and costume designs, and a score that pulsated through the entire film. A fun and wild ride that might have one of the best needle drops of the last 10 years.

Grade: A

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

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