There are a variety of elements that go into the creation of a film. While story and characters usually reign supreme, production design and visuals often play an important role. However, a fantastic facade is only worth so much without a captivating script. Directed by Sion Sono, Prisoners of the Ghostland is a movie that is too in love with its own absurdity. Simply put, this is an unfortunate example of style over substance.
Offered his freedom in exchange for retrieving a lost woman, a hardened criminal ventures into a world haunted by spirits. Nicolas Cage leads the picture and is joined by Sofia Boutella, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi and Nick Cassavetes.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is first and foremost a stylish film. Filled with colour and featuring many mesmerising costumes, the cinematography by Sôhei Tanikawa offers us a wealth of stunning shots. On their own, many of these visuals are phenomenal, the problem is that the production design lacks cohesion and ends up feeling overbearing.
With regard to the art direction, the creators of the movie seem to have thrown all their concepts onto the screen. This has resulted in characters and locations that seem to be crazy for the sake of being crazy. There is little uniformity here, meaning that the bonkers visuals don’t feel as if they support the film as a whole. Furthermore, while the imagery is wild, the events that take place are disappointingly bland and ordinary. If the story itself was insane and filled with adventure, the pompous production design may have felt more welcome.
The core narrative and main characters are very simple and quite uninteresting. Nicolas Cage gets more entertaining by the end but he and Sofia Boutella seem cast for their names alone. The few scenes that attempt to utilise their acting skills are ineffectively hollow as are the attempts at symbolism and worldbuilding.
In a surprising turn, the film does get rather enjoyable in its finale. The action is well-shot and the set design is more restrained. Audiences will be left wondering why the rest of the movie wasn’t more like this. Feeling like a different project entirely, the final act is undoubtedly amusing but it doesn’t improve the weaknesses of the sections that came before.
Prisoners of the Ghostland replaces an interesting script with absurd art direction. If you are looking for a crazy Nicolas Cage film that spends as much time on its characters as it does its visuals, you are better off watching 2018’s Mandy.