February 2, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Virtual Sundance Reviews: “Mayday” and “Prisoners Of the Ghostland”


MAYDAY:  The fantasy whatzit is a Sundance staple, and Mayday fits into that category.  (Paradise Hills was a recent example from a past festival.)  Ana (Grace Van Patten), short for Anastasia, is an ignored and abused waitress who finds herself swimming through a portal to what turns out to be an otherwise deserted island whose permanent inhabitants are a group of women, Marsha (Mia Goth), Gert (Soko), Bea (Havana Rose Liu) and June (Juliette Lewis).  Some kind of war is going on, but the women aren’t on either side.  Instead, Marsha, Gert and Bea serve as sirens, broadcasting mayday messages to the male fighter pilots flying above so they’ll come to the island to rescue the women in distress, only to be summarily murdered by their hosts.  Is this an alternate dimension?  A dream?  (People recognizable from Ana’s real life show up from the island, a la The Wizard of Oz.)  The afterlife?  Shrug emoji.  The message, in any case, is that men are largely awful and women’s solidarity is a wonderful thing, but murder isn’t the way to go.  Along the way, there’s a dance number featuring Ana and an assortment of the soon-to-be-dead soldiers, as well a flock of birds, a set that resembles the inside of a submarine, and eventually a daring escape.  Cirrone, whose feature debut this is, gets the most she can from a clearly limited budget, and she draws personable work from the actresses.  But Mayday doesn’t go sufficiently far in either direction, neither grounded enough to provide real character development and compelling narrative, nor weird enough to make all of that beside the point.

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND:  The schlockiness of Nicolas Cage’s choices in projects has itself become a cult object, but for every genuinely wild, transgressive selection like Mandy or Color Out of Space, Cage does many pieces of pure genre garbage.  (Grand Isle, anyone?  PrimalRunning With the DevilA Score To Settle?  All of those, mind you, were his output from 2019 alone.)  Prisoners Of the Ghostland very much wants to be considered in the former group.  It’s a postapocalyptic action movie directed by Japanese auteur Sion Sono, making his first (partially) English-language work, and among its eccentricities is a slaughter sequence scored to “Time In A Bottle.”  Sadly, it takes more than mere auspices to qualify as transcendingly weird, and Prisoners doesn’t hit the necessary crazy note.  The incoherent plot (script by Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai) places Cage in a bargain-basement Mad Max future as a hero named, wait let me check–Hero.  He’s a convict who feels very sad about the fact that his last bank robbery turned into a massacre after his accomplice killed multitudes, including an angelic child holding a cup of gumballs–we see a lot of that kid in flashbacks and nightmares.  Hero is removed from captivity by The Governor (Bill Moseley) so that he can rescue The Governor’s adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from her abductors, the catch being that he’s first zipped into a boobytrapped leather suit that will explode various parts of his body if even thinks about striking or having sex with a woman, or if he doesn’t deliver Bernice on time.  Soon enough, Hero has become a… well, you know, who’s going to free all the local prisoners from the real villain, the evil Governor.  None of this is spectacular enough or bizarre enough, and Cage doesn’t do his part, either, with little of the scenery-munching that makes him beloved.  Nicolas Cage playing it straight is a contradiction in terms, and Prisoners of the Ghostland doesn’t even provide the guilty kind of fun.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."