Arcadian Review – IGN

Arcadian Review - IGN

Arcadian is now playing in theaters and streaming soon on Shudder.

There’s a scene in the post-apocalyptic horror-drama Arcadian where two teenagers challenge each other to speculate, in 10 seconds or less, about how the previous world ended. It’s a clever way of conveying exposition that wouldn’t come up in casual conversation between characters in this movie: They’re living far enough removed from a mass extinction event to not actually know what destroyed a bunch of life on Earth. It’s also a somewhat shameless way of goosing the audience’s expectations for a big reveal of some long-ago incident. So it’s both a relief and a letdown to realize that Benjamin Brewer’s stripped-down creature feature stays in the moment, save for its nods toward poisoned natural resources and some manner of infestation. Despite the teasing, no further bombshells (and not much meaningful environmental subtext) are forthcoming.

Initially, Arcadian withholds so much that it’s unclear whether or not there are monsters in it at all. We can see that Paul (Nicolas Cage) lives in relative isolation with his sons Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins). They tend to a modest home, which they must secure every nightfall against unseen interlopers rattling at the other side of the door, a simple choice that builds up the movie’s creepiness – even more so because the characters seem accustomed to the attempted breach. They’re not the only family left in the area; in fact, there’s a bigger and better-appointed farm up the road, where Thomas often spends time, ostensibly to offer extra help but really to spend some time with Charlotte (Sadie Soverall), a girl his own age.

This seems to be setting up a conflict between an overprotective parent and a child straining, sometimes recklessly, to see more of the world. But while Paul maintains a strict curfew and schedule of chores, he’s also accepting of Thomas’ interests and tends to blame himself for the kid’s more irresponsible moments. Contrary to his lingering reputation for histrionics, Cage doesn’t play Paul as overbearingly intense. Instead, the movie shifts the real conflict to the brothers. It’s analytical, obedient Joseph who becomes resentful when Thomas strays from their family routine, generating a more novel tension – although not as exciting as the eventual attacks from genuinely unsettling nocturnal creatures.

The design for these beasts incorporates unpredictable rapid-fire stutters of motion and, in one memorable slow-burn scene, eerily outstretched, humanoid claws. They land somewhere between a MonsterVerse skullcrawler and a Quiet Place Death Angel, often remaining out of full view, with murky lighting complementing the low-budget but inventive visual effects. Unfortunately, the murk occasionally obscures the human characters, too.

Any trouble locating Cage appears to be by design. He’s ultimately more of a supporting presence in the movie, which may disappoint his biggest fans but serves the story just fine. Arcadian reflects his rising batting average of late; Brewer previously directed Cage in the fun 2016 thriller The Trust, an early signal that the always-working actor was gravitating toward a better class of B-movie. It’s easy to imagine a lower-rent version of Arcadian heading straight to VOD in 2011; the 2024 edition, hitting theaters before it turns up on Shudder, is a cross between the sincere shlock of Knowing and the quiet rusticity of Joe, though never as visually polished as either past Cage vehicle. Arcadian works surprisingly well within its familiar genre trappings (and a running time that comes in under 90 minutes before credits), presenting a grimy yet verdant glimpse of a fallen civilization plagued by monsters. Maybe the movie was right to leave the world’s end up to speculation.

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