Nic Cage delivers some more Nic Cage craziness in Prisoners Of The Ghostland, but it somehow doesn't feel like the right kind of Nic Cage craziness. HE does just fine, but the film itself fails to lean in to the insanity with the commitment required. There's also a lot more to this than the stuff that is there on the surface level though. I'll get to my own interpretation of things shortly.
Cage plays a potential hero, named Hero, who has been thrown in jail after an armed robbery went horribly wrong (thanks to his gun-happy partner, played by Nick Cassavetes). The Governor (Bill Moseley) frees him because he wants to send him on a mission to save a young woman (Sofia Boutella) who has been taken to the dangerous area known as the Ghostland. Hero is placed in a suit that has explosives wired in strategic positions. He has so many days to find the woman and get her to say her name or explosives detonate. Then he has so much time to get her safely out of the Ghostland or explosives detonate. And if he mistreats the woman in any way, yep, explosives detonate. You might think that this device won't mean anything, considering our hero is actually called Hero, but be assured that explosives do detonate.
I have now seen about four films from director Sion Sono, and I have loved three of them. Cold Fish, Tag, and Antiporno are all fantastic films, and all are very different from one another. The Virgin Psychics, on the other hand, is absolutely garbage, playing up to the tropes that you would list if creating something to epitomise the worst of Japanese cinema. Prisoners Of The Ghostland has lots of gorgeous visual style, something that Sono can deliver when he wants to (but credit to his DP here, Sôhei Tanikawa), and an interesting, murky, screenplay by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai (two writers with very little actual writing experience between them).
What is most interesting here is the way in which Prisoners Of The Ghostland defies viewer expectations. It's a mad concept, absolutely, but it may only be a way to explore Japanese history and culture. I may be very wrong here, and others can happily steer me in the right direction if so, but this feels on a comment on Westerners taking advantage of Japan, moving in after major damage has been done to lay claim to an area they can govern while being scared of so many other parts of the country. It also, even more so, feels like Hero is on a bit of a doomed journey. Despite his name, and self-belief, he cannot be the true saviour of the people, having done his bit to traumatise and damage the person he has been sent to rescue. Know what I mean? Maybe that will seem familiar to some.
Say what you like about Cage, and people are rarely shy about voicing their opinions, positive or negative, on the actor, he throws himself into most of his roles. This is no exception. His character isn't particularly nuanced here, played as almost an avatar for an entire nation/organisation, but his performance is in line with the material. Moseley is good fun in his role, although I wish he had some more screentime, and Cassavetes is enjoyably psycho (which explains his character being named Psycho). Boutella has one of her more thankless roles in the past few years, she's a good actress who has picked a variety of films over the past decade or so, but she does well enough. And I'll also have to mention Tak Sakaguchi, playing the Governor's bodyguard, Yasujiro, excellent and almost stealing every scene that he is in.
It's hard to put my finger on why this didn't work for me. On the one hand, the crazy parts that went totally crazy were fun. On the other hand, the more artistic moments were beautiful. You also get that unsubtle commentary running through it like a rich vein to keep mining for food for thought. It just never found a way to gel together, unfortunately, which meant I was watching every individual moment I liked separate from every other individual moment I liked, each one for a slightly different reason. And when things slow down to almost a crawl, which they do often, the film starts to feel like a slog.
It's certainly worth watching at least once, and I cannot bring myself to rate it as a BAD film, but I wish everyone involved had found a better way to bring everything together more cohesively.
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