Arcadian (2024, dir. Benjamin Brewer)

by | Jun 16, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 92 mins

UK Distributor: Vertigo Releasing

UK Release Date: 14 June 2024

WHO’S IN ARCADIAN?

Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Samantha Coughlan, Joe Dixon, Joel Gillman

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Benjamin Brewer (director), Mike Nilon (writer, producer), Nicolas Cage, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, Braxton Pope and David M. Wulf (producers), Kristin Gundred and Josh Martin (composers), Frank Mobilio (cinematographer), Kristi Shimek (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A father (Cage) cares for his two sons (Martell and Jenkins) in a post-apocalyptic world…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON ARCADIAN?

Nicolas Cage has that fantastic ability to automatically improve just about every film he’s in by his sheer presence. Even when the performance is far more subdued than his trademark over-the-top outbursts that have made him a messiah among meme culture, Cage is such a great actor that he can elevate the material by his ever-watchable dedication to the craft. In fact, the very reason I am reviewing Arcadian, which I otherwise might not have been able to make enough time to actually watch, is because Cage was in it, and whether or not the film turned out to be any good, at least there would be another instance of Nicolas Cage giving his all on the big screen.

That’s pretty much what Arcadian is: a solid Nicolas Cage performance in an otherwise forgettable, redundant, and sometimes incomprehensible horror-thriller with some decent moments, but not enough to warrant a theatrical experience.

Set fifteen years after the arrival of mysterious creatures has triggered a post-apocalyptic society, Paul (Cage) lives in a remote countryside farmhouse with his two teenage sons, Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins). Every night, when the creatures run rampant, Paul and his sons board up the house and stay alert as they try to break in, while during the day the brothers assist their father with regular farm work. Lately, though, Thomas has been sneaking off to a neighbouring farm, where he crushes hard on the owners’ daughter Charlotte (Sadie Soverall), leaving the more studious Joseph to find new ways to help Paul around the farm. One night, after Thomas becomes trapped outside with the monsters, the family dynamic is suddenly shaken up, prompting the brothers to figure out what to do next, whether or not it involves their loving father.

It would be staggeringly easy to dismiss Arcadian as a knockoff of A Quiet Place, but it’s also hard to shake off that comparison when this film, from director Benjamin Brewer and screenwriter/producer Mike Nilon, can’t quite distinguish itself enough from John Krasinski’s more popular film. While Nilon’s script does its best to not come off as a complete copy, and despite Brewer’s attempts to give the film its own stylistic identity (for better or worse – more on that in a bit), there are simply too many similarities in the central concept – from the post-apocalyptic monsters roaming about, to the central focus on a fractured family – that you are thinking of that movie more than you are being entertained by this one. Part of that is because there isn’t much interesting stuff to single out about Arcadian, with the film simply going through the standard motions of a typical post-apocalyptic thriller this side of A Quiet Place, hitting every beat you could imagine and rarely doing anything substantial with the familiar set-up.

Usually, if the script is as conventional as it is here, then it often falls to the attributes of the filmmaking to give the overall film a sense of life. Unfortunately, Arcadian is stranded with some of the most incomprehensible cinematography I’ve seen in a theatrical release for some time. Every single scene is shot on a handheld camera that shakes around so much that there may well be a point where the viewer begins to feel some sort of motion sickness. What’s more, the film is often so darkly lit that it becomes legitimately difficult to see much of the action, particularly during nighttime sequences when half of the movie appears to take place, something that is made even worse by the overly shaky camerawork that distorts your perception even further. It’s not until a few seconds after something sinister has happened that it even becomes apparent that something had happened in the first place, which also ties into how the overly rapid editing struggles to piece together the barely coherent footage into a series of sporadic shots that somehow make it more puzzling to witness.

Taking into account the small budget that these filmmakers were clearly working with, one can certainly sympathise with their need to cut some corners every now and then, because they most likely couldn’t afford to show everything. However, they still needed to at least show something, and with its borderline unwatchable cinematography, Arcadian makes the viewing experience far more difficult than it should ideally be. It is especially unfortunate because you can just about make out the decent film that they’re trying to make here, one that comes with its fair share of good performances – with younger actors Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins holding their own opposite Nicolas Cage, who after a point steps aside to let his co-stars take the wheel – and one or two creepy shots involving the designs of these monsters (which, again, you never get a proper look at because the camera jolts around far too much).

Sadly, this is a film that is doomed by its noble but underwhelming writing, and especially its incoherent filmmaking style. It is something that is perhaps better suited for a streaming platform like Shudder (which pops up as one of the film’s main distributors at the start) than for the cinema, where its fatal flaws are perhaps less noticeable. Blown up onto a much larger screen, though, such flaws are almost inescapable, to where not even Nicolas Cage can liven things up.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Arcadian is an unfortunate post-apocalyptic misfire, one that suffers from far too many unavoidable comparisons to other films like A Quiet Place, and especially a borderline unwatchable filmmaking style that makes it much harder to comprehend than it ideally should be – but at least Nicolas Cage is able to lend some gravitas to the movie every now and then.

Two out of five stars

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