Genre: Batshit Aesthetic That’s Hollow Inside
Release Date: 2021
Where I Watched: Shudder
Story: Cool dude Hero (yes, that’s his name) is forced into finding an overlord’s niece Bernice (*eyeroll*) in a post-apocalyptic samurai/cowboy town. And by forced, I mean strapped into a leather onesie that has bombs in strategic locations (yes, there too) to keep him in check. If he doesn’t bring her back in five days? Suit goes boom. I’m sure he won’t meet any crazy people, nor will he have issues flashing back to his days of being a criminal. Now onward, to the batshit!
Talky talk: I typically love gonzo ass shit, so why was I bored watching this film? Most probably because it’s all flash and no sizzle, or whatever the saying is that means “it doesn’t focus on story, just looks cool spelled KEWL”. The director obviously loves sweeping wide shots full of crazy, and the art direction is just magnificent, so those shots are incredible. Ghostland has lots of gritty, out-there images, crazy costuming, and a mishmash of Western and Samurai aesthetics. It’s basically Mad Max if Quentin Tarantino shot it. So maybe call it Tarantino Light? Same kind of score, mix of old and new visuals, and homages to various decades genre and exploitation films. Escape from New York, Kill Bill, Mad Max, Blue Velvet, The Hills Have Eyes…you could make a drinking game by taking a shot every time you notice a homage. You’d have alcohol poisoning by the end of the film, but I’m not the boss of you.
The dialogue is suitably overly serious and deadpan, is necessary or expected from a crazy genre story. And that’s the problem. The director seems way too focused on The Ascetic, leaving plot structure/coherent dialogue/fleshed out backstories in the dust. Scenes cut in and out of each other, even if that scene hasn’t fully played out. Dream sequences cut in and out as well, and with the same type of crazy cinematography (save for the spotty use of blue filter for dreams), it’s tough to figure out what’s “real” and what’s not. It’s just a mess. I think Ghostland is trying to be exploitation so desperately that it hasn’t really thought about what makes a film engaging. Cuz for me it was almost 2 hours of just staring at all the gorgeousnesss on screen, not knowing what the hell was going on, and definitely not caring. (I checked Wikipedia a few times during the film, simply because I had absolutely no idea what was going on and why. I was hoping that the Wikipedia plot synopsis would help me out. I still didn’t get it.)
The dialogue is suitably overly serious and deadpan, as is necessary (or rather, expected) from an exploitation genre thang. And here we get to Nick Cage. Who, as you probably gathered, is magnificent here. The film doesn’t focus enough on his crazy, as there are so many subplots and characters. But when he shines? Boy howdy. Cage rages, scowls, and is generally The Coolest Guy In The Room. And if that’s what you’ve signed up for? It’s glorious. But unlike films like Mandy or Mom and Dad, in Ghostland, Cage is left floundering with little to no story for him to react to. He just shifts gears every time another character interacts with him. It’s fun, but it’s not satisfying.
Come for: Nick Mothafuckin Cage
Stay for: Beautifully strange imagery…and Nick Cage.