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"Prisoners of the Ghostland" (2021) Review: An Oddball Samurai-Infused Jambalaya

Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.

The official poster for "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

The official poster for "Prisoners of the Ghostland."


In Prisoners of the Ghostland, a Governor (Bill Moseley) reigns over Samurai Town and its wasteland known as the Ghostland. Governor keeps a harem of women he refers to as his granddaughters in the Japanese-themed Samurai Town while the outskirts of the Ghostland are where nuclear waste survivors reside. One of the Governor’s granddaughters, Bernice (Sofia Boutella), attempts to escape and becomes trapped in the Ghostland.

Governor calls upon a prison convict named Hero (Nicolas Cage) to rescue Bernice. Hero is haunted by the events that occurred during the last bank robbery he was a part of where his partner Psycho (Nick Cassavetes) killed a kid. Hero is forced to wear a suit (and willingly goes commando) fitted with explosives that will detonate if he tries to take it off or is unable to rescue Bernice within five days. The catch is that some of the explosives are attached to his testicles.

Prisoners of the Ghostland Review

If you’re a fan of Nicolas Cage’s more unhinged performances, then Prisoners of the Ghostland is worth checking out. Cage’s unnatural line delivery, long-winded nonsensical speeches where he barely blinks, and repeated use of the same dialogue over and over again seems like he’s tapping into whatever charismatic and memorable nonsense he channeled in Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man remake. Cage is first seen chained nearly naked while wearing only a dirty sumo strap while Japanese women clamor over wanting to see his balls.

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Referred to as a neo-noir western action film, Prisoners of the Ghostland is a smorgasbord of cool concepts with no real direction or coherence. Directed by Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Exte: Hair Extensions, Why Don’t You Play in Hell), Prisoners of the Ghostland has some intriguing imagery, but is otherwise a mess of a 100-minute film. Bill Moseley’s Governor character looks like a second-rate Colonel Sanders with a speckled beard, white suit, and red gloves.

Nicolas Cage as Hero in Sion Sono's "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

Nicolas Cage as Hero in Sion Sono's "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

The film is this eclectic mix of just about everything Japanese-related while being unable to decide if it wants to be taken seriously or not. After Hero puts on the suit and is given how long he has until his balls explode, he is provided with a car. He gets inside the car, does a donut, gets out of the, runs off-screen, grabs a bicycle, and starts peddling towards the horizon. Both Moseley and Cage say their lines with ridiculous intent (Moseley’s pronunciation of “testicle” compared to Cage’s own pronunciation of the same word).

Tak Sakaguchi has no lines whatsoever. He portrays Yasujiro, who is essentially the right-hand man and bodyguard of the Governor. However, Yasujiro’s actions are peculiar since he typically kills whoever he wants for seemingly no reason at all. He simultaneously has the best and worst kills of the film. The best being when he stabs someone in the head with his sword. His victim is wearing a Japanese lantern that fills with his own blood after Tasujiro removes his blade. The worst is when Tasujiro seemingly slices someone in the neck, who then turns away from the camera with blood seemingly spraying from their abdomen.

Tak Sakaguchi as Yasujiro in "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

Tak Sakaguchi as Yasujiro in "Prisoners of the Ghostland."

The problem with Prisoners of the Ghostland is that Cage himself tried to promote it as the craziest film he’s ever made, but the film never lives up to the insane concept of having a bomb strapped to your nutsack. The film forcefully shoves Mad Max influences into a Japanese theme with nuclear-deformed samurai ghosts, bouncing gumballs, animal masks, pinwheels, and bubbles, and Nicolas Cage threatening to karate chop everyone into oblivion. All of this absurdity sounds like it should be way more memorable than it actually ends up being. Prisoners of the Ghostland is a massive letdown that implodes under its own lackluster outrageousness.

© 2021 Chris Sawin

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