Prisoners of The Ghostland – The Enigma

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Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

Nicholas Cage, for better or worse, is an enigma. The closer he comes to pure genius, the more obscure and confusing the slew of throwaway schlock he frequently indulges in appears. For every Mandy (2018) we are permitted to gleefully enjoy, so are we forced to endure a Willy’s Wonderland (2021) or Kill Chain (2019). He is an actor who seems eager to show off his chops and bask in his own talent, while also perfectly happy to fund his more artistic endeavors by screaming maniacally through one cheap, talentless production after another. In 2021 he starred in Prisoners of The Ghostland.

Prisoners of The Ghostland (2021), the latest film by Japanese director Sion Sono, oddly lies directly in the middle of these two known Cage archetypes. With a distinct gonzo vibe, and a sense of humor that ranges from the campy to the downright absurdist, this latest experiment in Cage-rage feels like a hyper-vivid mashup of Mad Max (1979) and surrealist neo-western, all through a filter of feverish b-movie grit. Insane choices abound in production, the actors being forced to take a script seriously that sounds as though it was written by a film-obsessed, adhd-riddled pre-teen. If that sounds like fun to you, you’ll probably love this one. I am personally on the fence.

Prisoners of The Ghostland has a rather grandiose feel, as though we are viewing a classic epic from an alternate, altogether weirder, timeline. Taken for what it is, it can be a fun ride, though a lot of time is given to slow, sombre scenes that cut tiresomely into the film’s energy. We are forced to watch, on repeat, the tragic incident that led Cage’s character into his explosive predicament, without being offered much more information each time we are shown it. These particular scenes detract heavily from the campy, tongue-in-cheek edge that films of its ilk thrive on, leaving doubtful its ascension to cult classic status.

Prisoners of The Ghostland scene featuring a man with a spear arm fighting a man with a sword

Sion Sono has a penchant for the weird and seemingly random, and his teaming up with Cage should have been a match written in the stars. Sadly it more serves as proof that more than visual flair and an abundance of oddities are needed to make even a b-movie great. All the ingredients are there, though something in the execution is simply lacking in any kind of real engagement. Through awkward and drawn-out conversation we never learn enough about any one character to allow any kind of development, and most interactions seem to be intended to confuse rather than enlighten. It is the kind of picture one could watch at least five or six times before realizing the deeper meaning they were looking for is actually not there at all.

For those who can bask in strange without feeling the need to look much further, the vibrant and colorful visuals of Prisoners of The Ghostland coupled with its eccentric cast and true attention to madness should provide ample entertainment for a late-night viewing.

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The Night 2020 – Creepy Hotels and Psychological Terror

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured

The Night (2020) is a warping and impressive directorial debut from Kourosh Ahari, director of such shorts as In Passing (2017) and Malaise (2014). While his time in the industry has been short, this promising offering displays a competence and understanding of what makes a truly chilling story, thankfully with enough talent to back up every inch of it.

An Iranian couple living in the US are lost on their way home from a night of drinks at a friend’s house. After arguing by the roadside over how to proceed, they eventually come across the majestic yet eerie Hotel Normandie, and decide to stay the night. What follows are enough spectral shenanigans and psychological trickery to satisfy Stephen King; And although it does tread similar ground to the fantastic 1408 (2007), The Night manages to hit hard in its own stylish and weighty manner. 

Invoking a similar claustrophobic dread to films such as The Borderlands (2013) and perhaps to a lesser extent Grave Encounters (2011); The Night presents us with the feeling that the characters we follow are being tortured to the full extent of their psychological threshold. To the disappointment of some, the film feels perhaps a little too scare-restrained to cross the border from unnerving to fully frightening. What area of the horror spectrum it does fall under, however, it owns to the fullest degree. 

The domestic troubles of lead couple Babak (Shahab Hosseini) and Neda (Niousha Noor) are apparent from the opening scenes, and it’s these demons and their collective secrets they must face if they are to survive their night at Hotel Normandie. Though slow in pace, the film is pulled along with ease by Hosseini and Noor’s compelling and involving performances. Additional characters show their faces now and then to instill some terror, shoving along a plot which keeps the brain whirring up until its revelatory, mind-bending third act.

And the ending…oh, that ending. 

The Night 2020 Horror Movie poster alternative featuring a mans face fading into the background

For a story of personal demons and their manifestations, the inference of real threat is a potent one. Dread builds through long -often hypnotic- camera takes, the slightest facial twitch indicating more than a monologue could ever achieve. The mesmerising effect of this style admittedly left me forgetting my place on more than one occasion, which is brilliantly appropriate. This, along with the heaps of mystery still seemingly looming beneath the surface even as the credits roll, absolutely warrants repeated viewings. The few jumpscares that were included are delivered with impeccable timing and accented with such dreadful musical spikes that I rejoiced at their inclusion, and I haven’t enjoyed a jumpscare since The Ring (2002)

The Night takes its time and strikes when it needs to with uncanny precision. Starting slow (almost deceptively dull), this build-up should be taken as such, and immersion in the world of these brilliantly acted characters is a top priority. This exquisitely-balanced drama/horror blend is a pleasant surprise from Ahari and hopefully a promising look at a bright future in cinema. I felt lost within the Hotel Normandie, which I would say is the highest possible praise for a film with The Night’s intent. 

The Night 2020 Movie Trailer

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Train to Busan presents: Peninsula (2020)

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Featured Horror Movie Reviews Scary Movies and Series

So I watched Train to Busan presents: Peninsula (2020) last night and my exasperated sigh that began as the credits rolled has just about come to an end. 

For those who don’t know, Train to Busan (2016) was a hugely successful south-Korean zombie flick from 2016, which made use of its tight £8.5 million budget to create, believe it or not, a unique and exciting entry into the world of modern zombie films. The film utilised strong direction, a cast including zombies played by dancers and contortionists, exhilarating action in a snowpiercer-esque limited setting and some genuinely emotional moments to engage critics the world over. Then, the one thing happened that nobody really wanted: Next Entertainment went and got sequel fever. 

Train to Busan worked because of its limited setting and, dare I say, its limited budget. A common gripe with sequels of films like this is that they go “all Hollywood” and layer in as many computer-generated effects as they can over a rushed plot and basically try to crank every aspect up to eleven, many times missing the point of what made the original great and alienating those who appreciated it the most. That, sadly, is exactly what has happened here. 

Train to Busan presents: Peninsula Has No Heart

Firstly, the heart of Train to Busan has been ripped out in Peninsula and replaced with one mechanical and unfeeling, one that tries desperately to imitate the organic beating of its predecessor while any right-minded viewer frowns at the blatant algorithms forming their emotional experience. Basically, the sentiment is so forced into Peninsula that it borders on emotional manipulation at several points, wherein the film may as well have held up title cards saying FEEL NOW rather than spend so much time lingering on mediocrely-portrayed anguish and cheap, oh so cheap misdirection. Without spoiling anything, I honestly wished they’d committed to the more tragic ending that was implied in the final scenes rather than backpedal in their inferral that we as viewers couldn’t handle it.

That being said, for the most part Peninsula knows what it is, and as a result is a fast-paced and often fun action movie. Much of the claustrophobic tension falls by the wayside for car chases and gunfights so heavy on CGI that one would be forgiven for thinking they’d wandered into Zack Snyder’s latest picture. Every time we are shown a crowd of zombies, which here serve more as fodder than a threat, at least half of them look superimposed or computer generated which, along with the borderline cartoonish style, can break immersion regularly. Some of the long-take action scenes are competently pulled off and enjoyable, even despite feeling a little derivative. Any scene in which a somehow-indestructible car mows down hundreds of computer-generated undead (which happens more than enough) is enough to draw an exasperated groan from anyone familiar with modern, high-budget zombie flicks. 

Aside from a few unique ideas, such as twisted survivors throwing strays into their zombie arena to battle captured undead and a clever idea involving a little girl and her remote-control cars, a lot of Peninsula feels a little too familiar to justify its runtime. If they are indeed setting up a series of zombie films here then I hope they continue the variation in concept and boil things back down in an attempt at a more focused zombie flick. We all know the genre has more to give, if only those creating it could show enough restraint to remember what made zombies great in the first place. 

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