Arcadian (2024)

Arcadian Review


During a short period of time, an Irish farm becomes “Aliens” with Nicolas Cage playing the Ripley role in “Arcadian.” Best elevator pitch ever. You know if you’re signing up for that or not. This is not James Cameron-level filmmaking, but it’s a good creature feature that avoids many of the post-apocalyptic horror traps (which have been quite popular recently, particularly at this year’s SXSW) and delivers on its premise. It feels like “The Walking Dead” and now maybe “The Last of Us” have spawned a mini-wave of movies about how humans respond when civilization collapses “Arcadian” is one of the best examples of this rising genre about how screwed we all are.

“Arcadian” starts with Paul (Cage) fleeing what is obviously the end of the civilization, represented by sirens and explosions buried in the sound design, off in the distance. He has two infant twin boys he’s hiding with him. Cut to 15 years later when Paul lives with his teen sons Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins). We meet these characters in a panic as Thomas hasn’t returned home from nearby Rose Farm and the sun is going down. People don’t like to be out after dark.

Some character development over dinner sets up that Thomas is more instinctual, risk-taking brother while Joseph seems more intellectual, interested in figuring out how to move beyond mere survival. The trio boards up all windows and doors at night, moving to a higher floor, and then something tries to get in leaving scratch marks on the door which look like moving blades were trying to chop it down. Those aren’t your ordinary wolf claws that did that. After spending a bit too long with cute Rose daughter Charlotte (a very effective Sadie Soverall), Thomas falls as he’s running home, getting stuck in woods after dark when Dad goes out to save him. Things get really weird. Then director Benjamin Brewer and writer Michael Nilon drop their bomb in one of the best genre scenes in a very long time. Without spoiling it, let’s just say it involves a sleeping Joseph, an open panel in a door, and a wide shot that feels like it goes on forever because it needs to ratchet up maximum tension.

It appears that what lies behind those trees is really, really scary. I think Brewer told his creative team to bring in every creature design idea they had and said “let’s just do em ALL.” The monster, at its core, looks like a primate mated with a xenomorph. It has the almost crawling, twisting energy of an H.R. Giger monster but there’s so much hair and teeth and god knows what else. “Arcadian” works because Brewer knows how to hide his budget in quick shots of creatures that don’t feel like cheap obfuscation as much as terrified glimpses. You don’t wanna see this thing all at once. You couldn’t handle it. Every time you think you know what the fuck these things are, they have another level of crazy design.

In one death scene it turns into an endless maw of teeth and fluid and blood and who the fuck knows what else. There have been some truly mediocre creatures in horror movies lately, and “Arcadian” proves how essential it is for the things that are supposed to be terrifying the character(s) to be… y’know… actually terrifying.

That said, there are choices made in “Arcadian,” especially early on, that work against it. It feels like Brewer was too scared people would get bored during the set-up so he went full shaky-cam with cinematographer Frank Mobilio (for no reason early scenes don’t need to be shot like a Bourne movie). And Cage-heads should be warned: this isn’t exactly his movie so much as Martell’s movie… or Jenkins’ movie… or Soverall’s movie… They’re all good but I worry people going in expecting another “Mandy” will leave disappointed; this is subdued Cage one who knows he’s more support for his young co-stars both human AND creature.

Ultimately though, I feel like “Arcadian” doesn’t have much character development or world building for some people but, again, the creature design overpowers that usual flaw in this genre. Ain’t no time to talk about why the world fell apart or even build much personality when THAT comes knocking every night.

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