Arcadian is a Dull Creature Feature That Wastes Nicolas Cage

The sci-fi horror could have really benefited from Cage’s burden of massive talent.

RLJE Films
Inverse Reviews

Credit to Arcadian where it’s due: What we have here is a modest-budget, original indie horror movie free from any kind of IP branding. We could always use more of these. But sadly that’s pretty much all Arcadian has going for it. In execution, Ben Brewer’s doomsday creature feature treads fully worn ground that you can almost make out the footprints left behind by countless other “The Walking Dead/Last of Us” types.

While a mostly confident production from Brewer with flashes of awe-inducing brilliance — nearly all of it owed to its harrowing monsters — Arcadian is too unengaging to really raise hell, and too uninspired to stand tall in its crowded genre space. It is a movie cursed by a lumbering story and plagued by such maddening camera work that you might beg the DPs to stay still. Absent of calcium and musculature, Arcadian conjures a mostly middling viewing experience that wastes its capable star Nicolas Cage.

The first person we see walking that muddy, trampled ground is Paul (Cage), a survivor of indeterminate origin who is our only perspective into a collapsing world. The finer details, the how and what is happening, are deemed unimportant by Brewer for audiences to dwell. All we get is smoke and the agonizing screaming of thousands over yonder. Much later, we join two teens, both major characters in the early throes of young love, who play an improv game where they make up how the end happened. The point is that it’s all unimportant to the point it’s almost a joke, and anyone’s guess is valid.

Where Arcadian is actually concerned is the fragility and illusion of safety. After we meet Paul, we find him attending to two infants, presumably his own sons. An abrupt time jump brings us 15 years later, and the boys have grown into the thoughtful, curious, and responsible Joseph (Jaeden Martell), and the more risk-prone Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins). The three carve a meager existence in a remote farmhouse where they protect themselves nightly from unseen monstrous entities; Joseph suspects these things are smarter than they want to believe.

From here, Arcadian unfolds in expected fashion. The boys inevitably disobey orders, which means people get hurt, and the need for medicine and shelter grows all the more dire. Arcadian hits all the predictable beats known to other post-apocalyptic media. None of this is a grave sin unto itself. But Arcadian’s lack of ambitions and any visible effort to say something new – about family, about community, about trust – renders its experience into one where audiences may certainly be left wanting.

Arcadian has a solid foundation, one anchored around a formidable Cage, whose world-weariness and paternal sternness is fine-tuned to the movie’s specific demands. Cage is reliably good here, and it’s not simply because he’s a famous actor whom we’ve already seen do crazy shit before. Though still dwelling in his late-career gonzo renaissance, Cage is more restrained here than in recent out-there swings (Mandy, Colour Out of Space, and Willy’s Wonderland, to name a few). He’s a believable father to his boys, both also played by fully present actors whose specific individual auras clash and complement each other almost at will. If only the movie they were in cared to give them more to do beyond moping around empty fields, arguing in cramped rooms, and fighting off monsters with the same competency of underpowered Resident Evil avatars.

Cage plays a father to two sons in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by unseen monsters.

RLJE Films

Speaking of: If Arcadian is to get any meaningful attention, it will be for its monsters. Best described as fuzzy nightmares that only the worst cases of sleep paralysis hallucinations could manifest, these unnamed terrors are the true foil to Arcadian’s characters, and about the only thing allowing the movie to have singular identity. Brewer and his team have clearly done a lot of over-thinking and fine-tuning to make these things, which resemble oversized dogs with the elongated necks of ostriches, downright bone-chilling. I was unprepared for them to start biting at rapid speed; nothing quite prepares you to witness in your waking hours the things you thought you only saw when you’re asleep.

Despite the strength of its actors and memorable monsters who have seemingly leapt from Bloodborne, Arcadian is far from anything worth actively seeking out even for genre and Nicolas Cage enthusiasts. It is a dull, languid foray into another tired end-of-world scenario, bearing nothing new or insightful to say about what it’s going to take for us to see through the apocalypse. Arcadian doesn’t communicate a cynical message. But the one it does impart, how we are always stronger together than apart, is hardly worth remembering.

Arcadian is playing in theaters now.

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