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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Arcadian' review: Nicolas Cage plays survival horror on dad mode

Nicolas Cage, Maxwell Jenkins and Jaeden Martell cruising on a buggy
RLJE Films

Let's set the Cage for everyone, shall we? Dystopian horror Arcadian transports you to the near future and into a world that has left only a small percentage of the human population alive after a mysterious catastrophe hit the Earth. Paul (Nicolas Cage) and his teenage sons Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) are some of the lucky, or unlucky, survivors who are living their best survivalist life in a small, boarded-up house in a rural area, except for Thomas who visits a nearby farm where his crush Charlotte (Sadie Soverall) lives with her family. But one fateful evening, Thomas fails to return as he suffers an accident, requiring Paul to go out and search for him. The problem, of course, is that deadly creatures come out every night so they all must survive the creatures' attacks; Joseph at home, Paul and Thomas in the wilderness, before Charlotte's family's farm is also compromised.

Director Benjamin Brewer and writer Mike Nilon leave the dystopian world-building to the short prologue, presumably partly for money reasons and partly because it allows them to focus on character arcs more, which in itself is a sign that you might be in good hands. Arcadian mixes modern survival horror, family drama and some coming-of-age elements as it's mostly interested in delivering a smart creature feature. The movie waits to reveal the creatures for a good while, trusting the furious sound design and mix to carry the tension instead, which is admirable since that work is really effective whether you're dealing with sounds of the attacks or the looming threat. Combined with well-realised visual effects (supervised by Zak Stoltz and Ben Burrell), solid creature design and neat production design (by Shane McEnroe) that actors have to interact with, Arcadian succeeds in providing plenty of apocalyptic dread.

All of the family drama and abrupt developments are a bit more hit-or-miss, particularly when the most affecting cast member in Cage takes a back seat in that second half. Jenkins and Soverall try very hard to turn Thomas and Charlotte's fresh romance into something that matters but Brewer's tonal swing towards melodrama with those scenes doesn't really work—not only because the visual language isn't quite there but also because it awkwardly clashes with Thomas and Joseph's brotherly rift that is also a small misfire considering how the film's 90-minute runtime doesn't have room to shape or unpack that properly. It also doesn't help that the musical score (by Josh Martin and Kristin Gundred) is recognisably manipulative during those scenes compared to the eerie screeches and downgraded brass instruments that support the survival horror setting just like they should.

Banding together against a strong threat becomes a central concept in the story later on and in that regard, Arcadian is both smart and skilled enough to fight back against instincts that a dumber movie would've entertained. Everyone in the main acting quartet is pulling their weight, Nilon's script has a good batting average when it comes to payoffs and the movie knows where it's going and how to get there. Arcadian lives to fight another day.

Smileys: Sound design, atmosphere

Frowneys: Tone

That dinner must've been ap-Paul-ing based on how the actors were eating it.


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