FrightFest 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland

My coverage of this year’s FrightFest is split between here and DMovies as I am a critical whore. Except not being paid. So I guess just a slut.

FrightFest is a beacon of independent cinema, full of films that make you think, feel and tremble… and one where Nicolas Cage yells about his testicles in a pair of exploding trousers. This isn’t a criticism of the festival, whose variety is part of what makes it great. But surrounded by movies that manage to do something interesting (even with limited resources), Prisoners of the Ghostland could hardly seem more obnoxious.

Set in a dystopian future where Nic Cage is still in films, Prisoners of the Ghostland recycles the plot of Escape from New York, the production design of The Road Warrior and Cage’s leather trousers from Ghost Rider. The post-apocalyptic Western takes place in a frontier town populated by cowboys, samurais and geishas, resembling some sort of racially insensitive fancy dress party.

The governor (Bill Moseley) sends a prisoner (Cage) to rescue his granddaughter (Sofia Boutella), fitting his trousers with explosives rigged to blow up his testicles if he gets too angry or excited or something. This seems like a terrible idea for both the mission (surely you need him to fight people) and a Nic Cage movie, because if he doesn’t go crazy you end up with a tedious pigture.

Fortunately the film is not precious about Cage’s balls and he is allowed to be uncaged, though there is something unfunny and forced about his lines when they are deliberately written to be wacky. His screaming about bees in The Wicker Man remake caught on due to the gulf between its earnest aspiration and misjudged execution, the stuff of dubious cult status. 

A prisoner of paradox, Ghostland tries too hard and not at all, lacking in decent action, actual comedy or coherent worldbuilding. Where the Frankenstein vehicles of the Mad Max universe looked like products of their environment, these are clearly fairground trucks adorned with fairy lights. On the poster Cage boasts “The wildest movie I’ve ever made”, but self-conscious weirdness is boring at best and embarrassing at worst, and the outcome is a load of old balls.

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