Thursday, May 23, 2024

“ARCADIAN”

THE STORY – In the near future on a decimated Earth, Paul and his twin sons find tranquility by day but terror by night when ferocious creatures awaken and consume all living souls in their path. When Paul is nearly killed, the boys come up with a desperate plan for survival, using everything their father taught them to keep him alive.

THE CAST – Nicolas Cage, Maxwell Jenkins, Jaeden Martell & Sadie Soverall

THE TEAM – Benjamin Brewer (Director) & Michael Nilon (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes


Benjamin Brewer’s “Arcadian” opens with a bang: As Nicolas Cage’s Paul scrambles through a war-torn city searching for supplies, we get short but meaningful glimpses of the devastation surrounding him. We don’t know exactly what happened or why, but we get just enough clues to piece together a rough draft in our heads. Most post-apocalyptic movies don’t open while the apocalypse is in its final stages, but this harrowing sequence, carried by Cage’s presence and cinematographer Frank Mobilio’s ability to create stunning images out of various shades of grey, hooks you instantly. An air of mystery builds, as does a connection to Paul, especially as it’s revealed that his mission has been to get food for his two baby boys. One quick time jump later, and those boys are now teenagers, living in a country farmhouse with Paul and struggling daily to survive the lack of food and the predators that come out at night. Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) has developed a mutual crush on a neighbor girl (Sadie Soverall), while Joseph (Jaeden Martell) spends his free time designing and building useful tools to help the family in their day-to-day activities.

For most of the film’s first half, “Arcadian” is a perfectly fine post-apocalyptic family drama à la “A Quiet Place.” Nothing much happens except lots of hunting, gathering, and character establishing. But, right around the halfway point comes a scene where Joseph is home alone at night, and we finally see the creatures that everyone has been hiding from. For one long, unbroken static shot, “Arcadian” shifts into a full-on creature feature and is all the better for it. The ingenious design of the creatures is terrifying enough, but what they’re capable of when they get together in a pack is truly awesome to witness. Despite the heavy use of CGI, the creatures always feel real due to their creepy-crawly tactility – their skin looks like tree bark crossed with porcupine quills – and never more so than in that introductory scene, in which we watch a finger ever so slowly unfold and extend from one end of the screen to the other.

A master class in steadily escalating tension, this one shot completely reinvigorates the film. From this point on, Brewer leans hard into horror, focusing on these creatures and how our intrepid family can escape them. With each subsequent appearance, we learn something new about the creatures until we reach the point where it’s time for the final showdown. Brewer stages the battles with the creatures with ruthless intensity and no small amount of inventiveness; however, Mobilio’s facility with greys doesn’t translate to the inky black of the nighttime setting where the creatures come out to play. The film gets so dark at points that it begs to be seen in a theater, not at home (even though that’s inevitably where most people will see it, since Shudder is distributing).

Not that the film’s pleasures are all strictly visual. The hard-hitting sound mix immerses you in the world immediately, and the clicking noise the creatures make while prepping one of their attacks will haunt your nightmares. While the characters may be annoyingly stupid at points, the actors don’t fall into the same trap, effectively communicating the paralyzation by fear that leads to poor decision-making as well as the deep reserves of strength the younger characters have had to build up over the years. Martell’s screen presence can often read as bland, but both actor and character manage to surprise with their resourcefulness, coming to life whenever Joseph comes up with a plan to save their skins. Jenkins likewise comes across as bland, especially in the film’s first half, but he does a wonderful job navigating Thomas’s arc from frightened boy to battle-tested man. Cage, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to do as Paul gets sidelined for the bulk of the film, but his presence alone elevates it, and he brings out the best in both of his younger co-stars.

As exciting as “Arcadian” gets in its second half, the storytelling can also be frustrating. The opening sequence is a fantastic scene-setter, and dialogue that speculates about how the planet got destroyed and where the creatures came from fleshes out the film’s world well. However, the tension between the family on the neighboring farm and Paul is never explained, leaving a frustrating hole at the center of some important scenes. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it does bring up many questions the film isn’t interested in answering right when it’s supposed to be getting tighter. This makes the film’s middle section tough to watch, but everything with the creatures makes it easier to take the underwritten qualities elsewhere. The one thing a creature feature needs to work is a creepily believable creature, and “Arcadian” has that part down so well that any other complaints feel minor. Some elements take away from moments in the film, but they don’t dull the overall experience. Once those chattering, rumbling, creepy-crawly creatures show up with their sinister pasted-on grins of razor-sharp teeth, you can’t help but surrender.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Fantastically creepy creature design and immersive technical aspects.

THE BAD - Some holes in the world-building frustrate, as does the film’s sidelining of Nicolas Cage. The first act is slow.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Fantastically creepy creature design and immersive technical aspects.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Some holes in the world-building frustrate, as does the film’s sidelining of Nicolas Cage. The first act is slow.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"ARCADIAN"