Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Sundance with Abe: Prisoners of the Ghostland

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Prisoners of the Ghostland
Directed by Sion Sono

There are many ways in which a person might feel like a prisoner. Being literally confined somewhere without the ability to leave fits the strictest definition, but there are also situations in which someone may feel trapped by their circumstances and unable to escape their fate, regardless of what choices they make. Conjuring up the resolve to break free of a destructive cycle is the first step in taking a stand, though that may not be enough to combat the oppressive weight of a lack of freedom.

A bank robber (Nicolas Cage) is arrested following a deadly heist with many casualties. He is released by the Governor (Bill Moseley), who puts him in a specially-designed suit outfitted with explosives designed to control his charge’s behavior and keep him in line. His mission: to find and rescue his adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella), who must speak her name into the suit to prevent its self-destruction after five days. As he searches for her, the hero discovers mythical elements of Samurai Town and the collective inability of its residents to leave the mysterious place.

This film would probably be best suited for the Midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival if it wasn’t considered a premiere. In some senses, it’s an incredible head trip, one that isn’t designed to make sense but instead to focus an insatiable curiosity about its characters and the place they are inhabiting. Alternatively, it’s a metaphor for how people feel lost in societal systems and unable to remove themselves from unfortunate expectations set by powerful people with no regard for their wellbeing. It’s also possible there’s none of that embedded in this film and that it’s merely an ambitious and uncategorizable piece of genre-hybrid entertainment.

After winning Oscars and taking on challenging dramatic and comedic roles early in his career, Cage has become somewhat of an action-horror legend, embodying the most maniacal and unhinged characters because that’s what audiences love to see. While that’s initially the appearance of who he is here, it turns out to be one of his more sedated and controlled turns, with just enough yelling and yelping to keep fans happy. This film is a work of art, particularly when it comes to its set pieces and costumes, though, like many revered paintings and other celebrated pieces, it may be completely lost on some audiences. Its allure isn’t quite matched by its delivery, but there’s something deeply interesting embedded within a film that’s not quite as dark and twisted as it thinks it is.


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