Sundance Review: Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage's 'Prisoners of the Ghostland' Is Exactly as Unexpected as You'd Expect Directed by Sion Sono

Starring Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes
Sundance Review: Sion Sono and Nicolas Cage's 'Prisoners of the Ghostland' Is Exactly as Unexpected as You'd Expect Directed by Sion Sono
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Legendary Japanese director Sion Sono has over 50 directing credits to his name, including the release of two features in 2020 alone. Still, Prisoners of the Ghostland is particularly special in that it's not only his first English-language feature but also his first collaboration with genre hero Nicolas Cage. Certainly, this unprecedented crossover means Prisoners of the Ghostland will garner plenty of hyperbole to which it may not fully live up, but the film is still a bizarre, ambitious, hilarious and downright bedazzling work.

Nicolas Cage stars as Hero, a man who has been tasked with rescuing Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a strange prisonyard known as the Ghostland. He's expected to return her as property to the governor (Bill Moseley) or else explosives attached to his neck and testicles will be detonated.

The convoluted plot also involves stopped time, radioactive waste and plenty of sword-wielding samurais in locations that mash-up Mad Max, Return to Oz, the work of Terry Gilliam, and a sort of cyberpunk Cirque du Soleil. Background actors engage in choreographed movements while they deliver lines, crass jokes are piled on top of silly scenes, and Nicolas Cage makes up for his lack of martial arts skills by saying memorable lines like, "I'll karate chop you."

Prisoners of the Ghostland can't possibly live up to its hype, but it's destined for cult status anyway. The film is occasionally too unfocused for its own good, but it's also an incredibly weird and fun journey. If you're looking for overwhelming martial arts, brutal Nic Cage action, or any semblance of a satisfying plot you'll have to look elsewhere. But that's part of Prisoners' charm — this movie is difficult and weird, but never boring. (RLJE Films)