[Fantasia 2021] I Want to Break Free! Prisoners of Ghostland

Instead of storming the fort, this champion better live up to the label of “Hero” in Prisoners of the Ghostland.

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)Playing
Aug 20, 9:45 PM
Cinéma Impérial
Montreal, Quebec
Tickets available to purchase online here.

Online Screening on 
Aug 23, 2021, 7:00 PM
Geolocked to Canada and tickets can be bought here.

Also coming to theatres and VOD Sept 17, 2021

Nick Cage will always be Nick Cage. He’s quite the “national treasure” in that regard. He’s a very versatile actor and I really have to wonder if he’s ever declined a role. These days, we’ve seen him as a butcher, baker, and candlestick mak—ok, perhaps not. The films of 2021 have made him a chef–and he’s an onary one in Pig–and Willy’s Wonderland. It’s amazing in how he carries this film without really speaking a lot.

In his latest, Prisoners of Ghostland, he’s a bank robber turned soft. He gets caught, and Cage’s character is given a chance at freedom if he can locate Bernice (Sofia Boutella). She ran away from her tormentor, The Governor (Bill Moseley) who rules Samurai Town. She went into hiding the neighbouring territory, Ghostland. This wasteland is where many refugees like to hide.

This film’s surreal narrative certainly requires a few watches to make sense of it all. The botched robbery involves Cage’s character showing compassion and following a code of ethics. When He says no to killing, his partner in crime says yes. I supposed that’s how he earned the name, Hero. I suspect, when considering this film’s Japanese style aesthetic, it should be Hiro. The name he is given is a pun more so than anything else.

Instead of storming the fort, this champion better live up to the label. He’s warned that if he touches the runaway in the wrong way, this governor won’t hesitate to blow off his head. To ensure his obedience, the reluctant warrior is fitted into a suit fitted with explosives around his neck.

Nicolas Cage stars in first trailer for Sion Sono's Prisoners of the  Ghostland

The world Hero has to infiltrate feels like a reimagining of Mad Max with a good dose of Terry Gilliam mixed in all this wild west setting. The costume and set design adds a bit of steampunk too. Everything the citizens fear concerns the atomic devastation this little corner of the world faced. I’m certain director Sion Sono and the writing team of Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai are making an allusion to the Fukushima disaster. Many people evacuated in that situation still can’t return home and I suspect that’s how Ghostland was born.

The set design is perfect in its European gothic design to show a lot of these characters are shadows of their former shelves. It shows when Hero finds Bernice wearing a mannequin’s skin. Plus, I’m sure there’s a secret meaning with the crumbling clock tower which I’d have to ask Salvador Dali to explain should I decide to conduct a séance or Ouija board session.

The dreamlike nature of the story can be understood for anyone who is familiar enough with Sono’s filmography. I haven’t watched enough to say this work is his magnum opus. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle on making comparisons to Western cinema and literature. Cages trip with Bernice (instead of Alice) in Wonderland is just that. I suspect this world is a purgatory where nobody is wanting to leave. They’re not ready to deal with life–especially if the Governor is after them all.

I found Hero’s decision to not leave this strange world after locating Bernice odd. I would’ve left as soon as I could instead of getting involved in the local politics. Life isn’t a bed of roses either back in reality. The Governor rules his town, and everything he says is the law. Eventually, Hero will have to confront him and thankfully this part of the narrative makes sense.

As for what we’ll see from Cage next, the IMDb shows him bumming in the Cayman Islands, and lying low for a reason… 

4 Stars out of 5

Author: Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology to popular culture to paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

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