Film Review: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai

Director: Sion Sono

“Come with me or rot”, Nicholas Cage’s redeemed hero certainly knows how to win over a crowd in Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai’s surreal dystopian drama directed by Sion Sono Prisoners of the Ghostland, released on Blu-ray and DVD. A fairly inexplicable white saviour narrative set in a futuristic Japan where the majority of the speaking parts go to middle aged white men, the film may have an international cast, but it perpetuates stereotypes while giving the female leads westernised names.

Convicted of bank robbery and murder, Hero is given a suit loaded with detonators and released on a mission to bring back the Governor’s granddaughter Bernice from the Ghostland where she has been taken by a demon. There, Hero finds a nascent society suffering the after effects of nuclear explosion, but can he find the girl and save them all in just three days?

Henry and Sixo Safai have really problematic portrayals as Asian people and culture, of subservient or mute women waiting to be rescued and white men as the self-appointed leaders of them all – a situation that doesn’t exactly change with the defeat of the main baddie. Wrapped up in its heightened style of pop colours and futuristic design, Prisoners of the Ghostland might seem like anodyne popcorn fodder but its underlying messages are as troubling as its plot is ridiculous.

Even with that, although the set pieces are well released, the story makes little sense beyond the bog standard rescue mission and Sion spends much of the overlong 1 hour and 45-minute running time establishing abstract background scenarios in a hybrid Japan meets cowboy aesthetic for the main town in which extras crowd around in disconcerting patterns, while the Mad Max-like Ghostland semi-ferral inhabitants mix with odd figures covered in plastic armour, all waiting for their Moses figure to save them.

Nicholas Cage goes through the motions as Hero, even when intimate bits of his body are being blown off by the explosives secreted about his suit. As a man who refers to people as ‘bitches’ and reveals violent tendencies towards women, it is hard to believe in his redemption arc even when dream sequences suggest an alternative outcome to the bank robbery. Cage doesn’t seem to care very much so neither will you.

Sofia Boutella’s gets to emote a lot until finally allowed to speak and even join in later in the film while a range of secondary characters ham it up as baddies, henchmen and the various communities. But Prisoners of the Ghostland never really connects with any of these people or even consistently with its abstract approach that may be visually impressive but never means much to the hero or the viewer.

Prisoners of the Ghostland is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 15 November.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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