‘Arcadian’ Review: Nic Cage faces off against absurdly terrifying creatures

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Arcadian (2024) © Highland Film Group
Arcadian (2024) © Highland Film Group

Nicolas Cage plays Paul, father of two teenage boys who he is attempting to raise in a post-apocalyptic world haunted by mysterious yet violent creatures which come at night. Things take a turn for the worst when one of Paul’s sons gets into an accident and Paul must venture out to find him. With the night closing in, their fates hang in the balance and a battle for survival ensues.

★★★☆☆

Arcadian opens with a long shot of Nicolas Cage running. Sirens are blaring, explosions can be heard, and the sound of distant screams immediately sets the tone for something eerily apocalyptic. Cage has faced a lot of weird and wonderful adversaries in his career, from John Travolta to questionable animatronic robots. None of these, however, quite match the horrors of not only a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by mysterious monsters, but also fatherhood.

The cause of said apocalypse is mostly left a mystery, with sparing use of expositional dialogue providing pieces to the puzzle. This is clearly intentional; the focus of the film is not the setting but the dynamic between Paul and his two sons, Joseph and Thomas (Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins). The two boys are effectively on opposite ends of a spectrum in terms of the relationship with their father. Joseph takes after his father and is seemingly the more capable one, whereas Thomas’s relationship is strained by a desire to push the nightfall curfew by visiting a nearby farm. The dynamic works for the most part, with Martell and Jenkins’s conflicting dynamics becoming a central point of interest.

Arcadian (2024) © Highland Film Group

Arcadian almost feels like a homage to several other post-apocalyptic films; the troubled family living in isolation in the countryside is certainly reminiscent of Signs (2002), A Quiet Place (2018) and I Am Legend (2007). Similarly to those films, Arcadian choses to hide its main creatures for the first half of the film, leaving the danger to the imagination. Director Ben Brewer understands the core to a post-apocalyptic film is how the characters struggle to survive, not necessarily the creatures themselves. Tonally, it’s very similar to other recent post-apocalyptic films like The End We Start From (2023) and No One Will Save You (2023). It feels dirty, dark, and the small cast emphasises the isolation and loneliness of the end of civilisation.

The best way to describe the creatures themselves is absurdly terrifying, like something that may appear in the nightmares of Hayao Miyazaki for a Studio Ghibli film. They are an effective amalgamation of natural and unnatural, like an experiment gone wrong; especially in the almost laughably strange way they get around. There are some genuinely tense scenes with the creatures, with effective use of silence and great camera work intensifying the horror aspect. The film is mostly shot handheld, giving it quite a dynamic and unnerving feeling, with the occasional lovely wide shot of Cage sitting under a tree smoking a cigar with a waterfall in the background providing a welcome contrast.

Arcadian (2024) © Highland Film Group

Arcadian is enjoyable for its tone and atmosphere, but its biggest flaw is its writing. Most of the dialogue is relatively one-note, and often simply explains what the characters are feeling or doing rather than allowing the performances to speak for themselves. As a result, the characters can sometimes feel flat, with supporting characters from the nearby Rose farm almost entirely so. Furthermore, Paul is effectively taken out of the story for most of the second half, leaving the film to rely on the two sons and supporting characters to carry it. This works for the most part, but may leave some viewers’ Nicolas Cage fix unfulfilled.

The Verdict

Arcadian is a welcome addition to the post-apocalyptic genre, with its effective tone, sympathetic character dynamics, and a unique creature design, but doesn’t particularly break any new ground. It understands what made the atmosphere of films like A Quiet Place and Signs as effective as it was, but narratively it doesn’t quite reach the heights of those films. The largely monotonous dialogue leaves a desire for more from the characters and story, and sometimes prevents the performances from reaching their full potential.

Words by Gareth Griffiths

Arcadian is available in UK cinemas from 14th June.


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