Nicholas Cage’s unusual artistic choices over the years have been frequently remarked upon by critics, and no doubt he’s been in some pretty bad films over his long and storied career (*cough* The Wicker Man *cough*). But he’s also chosen some truly original, visionary independent projects, most recently 2019’s Lovecraft adaptation Color Out of Space and the bloody horror comedy Willy’s Wonderland earlier this year. He’s currently earning critical raves for his portrayal of a chef turned truffle hunter in search of his stolen truffle pig in Pig. And now we have the official trailer for Cage’s latest film, Prisoners of the Ghostland, a post-apocalyptic thriller that looks like Max Max transported into a surreal samurai Western.
Prisoners is helmed by idiosyncratic auteur Sion Sono. While Sono isn’t a household name in the US, he has enjoyed a fair amount of fame in his native Japan and on the film festival circuit. The Hollywood Reporter once called him “the most subversive director working in Japanese cinema today, with nearly 50 films of various genres—rite-of-passage stories fueled with social transgressions, all-out sex-and-gore thrillers, hip-hop musicals, and warm human drama.” He’s perhaps best known for 2008’s Love Exposure, a four-hour (!) art-house comedy drama inspired by Sono’s own youthful experience with a cult.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is Sono’s English-language debut, and it looks like a good fit for Cage’s colorfully flamboyant, mega-acting style. (Cage himself has called his method “Nouveau Shamanic” or “Western kabuki.”) The film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival to decidedly mixed reviews, although both Cage’s performance and Sono’s striking visuals received praise.
Per the official premise:
In the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber (Cage) is sprung from jail by wealthy warlord The Governor (Bill Moseley, Carnivale), whose adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman) has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman—and his own path to redemption.
Complicating matters is the fact that Bernice is caught in a “dark supernatural universe” (aka the titular Ghostland) ruled by a creepy group of ghostly revenants. Break the curse, and Cage’s antihero bank robber (named Hero) and Bernice will be able to escape. The film also stars actor/director Nick Cassavetes (Face/Off, The Other Woman) as a character named Psycho, Tak Sakaguchi as Yasujiro, Yuzuka Nakaya as Bernice’s adoptive sister, and Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones, Alita: Battle Angel) in an as-yet-unnamed role.
The trailer’s opening sets up the basic premise, showing Hero being marched out in chains to meet the Governor, who is dressed all in white and has a suitably smarmy drawl. Hero puts on the leather suit, with explosive devices in each arm, in the collar, and—just for good measure—the crotch area. (This prompts giggles from the women in the crowd and a sardonic “really?” from Cage.) Next, we’re off to the highway “where evil reigns” and from there into the Ghostland, “a land of no escape.” It’s not long before Hero is desperate to find a way out, but to do so, he must “surrender to fate.” Apparently, that involves engaging in a sword fight with Sakaguchi’s samurai warrior, a nuclear explosion, and something strange going on with a tower clock.
Overall, this film looks like a beautifully bonkers mishmash of stylistic influences. Say what you will of his eccentric and uneven choice of projects, but at least Cage is never boring. The actor called this “the wildest movie I’ve ever made… and that’s saying something.” So Prisoners of the Ghostland just might be worth a watch.
Prisoners of the Ghostland debuts in theaters and on demand on September 17, 2021.
Listing image by YouTube/RLJE Films