In PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND (2021), a lot of great gonzo elements come together not unlike spaghetti against the wall, but the whole didn’t quite gel for me.
I was really excited about this one for several reasons. First off, the trailer is off the hook, promising a great gonzo experience that its director, Sion Sono, is apparently known for. It stars Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, and Bill Moseley. And it’s produced by XYZ Films, which has a solid track record.
At first, the film delivers on its promise of utter weirdness with great production quality. The governor (Moseley) rules Samurai Town, a settlement in a region of Japan abandoned after a nuclear power plant disaster. He keeps a harem of women, including Bernice (Boutella), who escaped into the Ghostland, where refugee outcasts eke out a meager living in the apocalyptic ruins, caught between life and death. Enter Hero (Cage), a notorious criminal, whom the governor fits with an explosive suit and sends out into the Ghostland to bring his Bernice back.
Samurai Town is a mashup of samurai and American Old West culture, and there’s enough weirdness to it that it’s all very promising. The costumes and artistry apparent in the cinematography, costumes, and weird apocalyptic culture come across as something Terry Gilliam might have made.
Unfortunately, it all kind of falls apart with an over reliance on these elements at the expense of good pacing, plotting, and character development. As a result, I was surprisingly bored for much of it. Now, when you’re doing a gonzo film, you can skimp on anything and break any rules you want, but it has to come together with a certain magic. For me, it just wasn’t there. The director seemed to fall in love with certain elements and pushed them too far until they almost became grating, rather than letting me react with a sense of wonder.
So overall, PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND offered a lot for me to like in the parts but nothing I fell in love with in the whole, which was a bit of a bummer as I really wanted to love it and I went into it with high hopes. Still, it checks many of the boxes of an enduring cult film, so time will tell on that.