Film Review: 'Prisoners of the Ghostland'
Film Review: 'Prisoners of the Ghostland'

Film Review: ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’

Just beyond the point, where we now stand, lies a stretch of highway where evil reigns.” – Governor.

In the third week of September, to be exact on September 17, 2021, RLJE Films officially released its newest film, titled ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’. Directed by Sion Sono, a Japanese-born filmmaker known for his eccentric style, this film presents a fantasy blend of East and West wrapped in suspenseful action.

Set in a post-apocalyptic setting, this film tells the story of a vicious bank robber (Nicolas Cage) who is promised freedom by the Governor of Samurai City (Bill Moseley) if he manages to save the governor’s runaway granddaughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella). But the robber, Hero, is only given a limited amount of time to carry out the rescue mission.

Constrained by a black leather armor with six ready-to-explode bombs scattered around his body, he should be able to find Bernice within three days. Then, Bernice must be able to say her own name into the microphone that has been prepared on the Hero’s wrist as a form of proof that the girl is still alive or all the explosives attached to the leather armor will explode simultaneously.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
© RLJE Films
On the other hand, if Bernice manages to say her name, the Hero will get two extra days to complete his mission, bringing Bernice home safely.

Not only that, the Hero also must not threaten or treat Bernice roughly because it can also trigger a bomb to explode. When Bernice returns safely within the allotted time, then the Hero can get the key to unlocking the deadly costume which is still in the Governor’s grasp.

In a race against time, the Hero immediately rushed to a place called Ghostland, the place where the Governor believed Bernice was being held. In the middle of a journey full of thick fog, he is confronted by a group of mysterious mutants and ends up unconscious.

When Hero opened his eyes, he found himself lying on a wooden cart being pulled by a group of strangely dressed humans. Apparently, they were residents of the no-run area he was looking for, Ghostland.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
© RLJE Films The
horror of encountering something new, strange, and unsettling when meeting the inhabitants of Ghostland is palpable. Starting from the barren desert filled with dozens of mannequins stuck in the ground, the ruins of buildings with a giant wall clock in the middle, to humans in shabby and tattered clothes who kept pulling the clock hands with ropes, as if to prevent the clock from ticking. .

It was also here that he found Bernice frozen in silence, covered in a collage of human skin masks all over her body, camouflaged among a bunch of mannequins. Like a real mannequin, Bernice could only stand still without being able to utter a word. The inhabitants of Ghostland say that his speech has been taken away and that Bernice must take it back.

Not only that, the Hero is also faced with another problem where to get out of Ghostland, he must return to face a swarm of undead that can appear at any time. Now, he must rack his brain to find a way to solve the problem at hand and immediately bring Bernice home before the costume he wears takes his life.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
© RLJE Films
Some of the typical characteristics of the director appear in his Hollywood debut. Sono is known for his skill in incorporating elements of sects into his films. This time, he displayed it through mass chants.

From the start, the audience was greeted by the dancers who moved their heads in a circular motion with a constant tempo. With expressionless faces, they sang a traditional Japanese children’s song called Kagome Kagome (かごめかごめ) which successfully made anyone who watched it feel goosebumps.

Then, it wouldn’t be Sian Sono if he didn’t incorporate gore elements into his work. Even so, the scenes shown are not as brutal and sadistic as those in his previous works.

No blood-red sea is shown as in his work entitled ‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell’ (2013) or dozens of school teenagers throwing themselves en masse in the middle of a crowded station as in his work entitled ‘Suicide Club’ ( 2001).

Indeed there are some scenes that show blood splattering, but not as extreme as the films mentioned above.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
© RLJE Films
In terms of ideas, what this film offers is very unique and interesting, even tends to be wild. The combination of two different cultures, East and West, especially Japan and America, is the main theme of this film. So, don’t be surprised if the audience will find a samurai and a cowboy in the same set.

In addition, Sono also combines things like crowds of the undead, nuclear explosions, and modern technology into one, blurring human reason and making the setting of time and place less important.

The properties used look very supportive in the manifestation of the ideas offered. The costumes of the players as well as the depiction of a capable set are added points for this one film.

Every role that exists is described with observance and detail; starting from the governor’s subordinates, namely cowboys and samurai with long rifles and their proud katana swords, dozens of beautiful geisha clad in colorful kimonos, as well as the inhabitants of Ghostland who are depicted in ragged clothes with random cuts and are equipped with frills that are dangle to the ground.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
© RLJE Films
Set was made as vivid as possible to add aesthetic value. Adorned with blooming cherry trees, shops lined with neon-lit flashing lights, and children playing ball playing along the streets, Samurai Town looks lively and unpretentious, in contrast to the slum and dusty neighborhood of Ghostland, where there is no hope but only despair.

The color game also supports the atmosphere. The opening scene and Samurai City are dominated by contrasting and highly saturated colors, bringing a more real and lively impression than the Ghostland area which is dominated by earthy tones and muted colors.

In addition, blue lighting is also used to help the audience understand the boundary between reality and the main character’s dreams.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
© RLJE Filmsstandpoint
Unfortunately, although from an artistic point of view this film looks very selling, from a character, it doesn’t feel like it’s been dissected in more depth. The audience seems to be not introduced to the characters so they can’t understand the motivation of each scene that is played and the emotions that are conveyed feel half-hearted.

This also affects the chemistry between the characters which is less formed, especially in the main characters. In fact, the chemistry that is most felt and seen clearly is in the interaction between Bernice and one of her friends, Susie (Yuzuka Nakaya).

In addition, with so many eccentric ideas offered and the storytelling through small fragments and plots that jump between flashbacks and the present, viewers can feel a little overwhelmed in processing the information provided.

Viewers must exert extra concentration and observance in capturing the hidden clues contained in the film or they will be confused and end up getting bored.

It was undeniable that ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ was definitely not for everyone. But if you are a person who likes action adventures full of endless absurd madness, this film can be an option in enjoying your free time.


Director: Sion Sono

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Nick Cassavetes

Duration: 103 minutes

Score: 4.8/10

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