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“‘Arcadian’ Review: Nicolas Cage Leads a Post-Apocalyptic Drama That Falls Short of Expectations”

“The actor stars alongside Jaeden Martell and Sadie Soverall in a SXSW-premiering feature about a father’s unwavering determination to safeguard his sons.”

Nicolas Cage in Arcadian

In Benjamin Brewer’s Arcadian, the Earth’s soundscape becomes a crucial element, signaling safety during the day with rustling leaves and frenetic bird calls, while the stillness of the night hints at looming threats. Brewer skillfully captures the uneasy tension of a post-apocalyptic world where the fate of humanity remains shrouded in mystery.

Premiering at SXSW, Arcadian follows Paul (Nicolas Cage) and his two sons, Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) and Joseph (Jaeden Martell), as they navigate a quiet yet familiar version of Earth. Their daily routines are consistent: foraging for wood in the morning, scavenging for scraps in abandoned ports, and tending to household chores. Evenings are marked by shared prayers over dinner and ensuring all locks are secure before bedtime. However, the tranquility is threatened by monstrous creatures with sinister designs, lurking just beyond their doorsteps. Despite the looming danger, moments of tenderness abound within the family, highlighting the varying levels of intimacy among its members.

Outside of the trio’s homestead lies a relatively unknown world, including the Rose Farm a few miles away, a fortified community where Thomas’ crush Charlotte (portrayed by Sadie Soverall) resides with her parents (played by Samantha Coughlan and Joe Dixon). A central tension in Arcadian, penned by Mike Nilon, revolves around Thomas repeatedly shirking his duties to visit Charlotte. One day, while rushing home to meet Joseph after abandoning him earlier, Thomas stumbles and falls into a massive crevice in the earth. His father searches for him, and the two endure a harrowing night evading the monsters. A close call with one of the creatures leaves Paul badly burned and barely conscious after attempting to scare them off with fire. Now, it’s up to his sons to nurse him back to health while safeguarding their home.

With its concise screenplay, Arcadian doesn’t delve deeply into plot intricacies or extensive world-building. The lack of context can be frustrating, leaving viewers with numerous unanswered questions about the new world order depicted. While the film embraces the notion of uncertainty and the absence of a clear guide for navigating post-apocalyptic life, it may leave audiences craving more insight into the setting and backstory. A notable scene where Thomas and Charlotte speculate about the pre-apocalyptic society adds a layer of realism, highlighting the generational gap in knowledge about the past. However, while this moment is clever and authentic, it doesn’t fully compensate for the film’s overall lack of background information.

Indeed, Arcadian leaves many details shrouded in mystery, including the enigmatic personality of Paul and his dynamic with his sons. Despite Nicolas Cage’s commendable effort, the role doesn’t afford him ample material to fully flesh out his character. Following the accident that leaves him in a coma, questions arise about Paul’s life before the apocalypse—his community ties, relationships, and personal interests remain unknown.

The film’s potential is primarily evident in its performances, with compelling portrayals from Martell and Soverall, as well as the impressive monster design. Joseph’s transformation from shyness to a determined study of the creatures adds depth to his character, while Soverall breathes life into her role despite its limitations. The chemistry between Soverall and Jenkins injects energy into their budding romance, yet as their relationship develops, viewers may find themselves longing for more specific world-building within Arcadian.

Although Mike Nilon’s story hints at intriguing class tensions between Thomas’ family and Charlotte’s, the lack of a cohesive understanding of the society backdrop leaves these themes underexplored. Without a clearer depiction of the disorganized and fragmented society, the narrative’s potential for deeper exploration remains unrealized.

What’s evident in Arcadian is Benjamin Brewer’s skill as a director, demonstrated through his past work as a lead visual effects artist and his recent co-writing of Reptile. Brewer exhibits confidence behind the camera, with one of the film’s standout moments being the creature reveal. In this scene, Joseph strategically positions himself as bait, sitting in an armchair at the center of the room. A suspenseful wide shot captures a slimy hand creeping through the unlocked mail slot, inching closer to Joseph. As tension mounts, Brewer expertly balances it with subtle humor before culminating in a triumphant climax. This near-perfect sequence showcases Brewer’s ability to build suspense, inject humor, and deliver impactful moments, highlighting Arcadian’s potential despite its occasional struggle to find its footing.

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