Arcadian (2024) Review

Arcadian (2024) Review

Maxwell Jenkins, Nicolas Cage, and Jaeden Martell in Benjamin Brewer’s ARCADIAN. Courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder. An RLJE Films and Shudder Release.

Arcadian (2024)
Director: Benjamin Brewer
Screenwriters: Mike Nilon
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Samantha Coughlan, Jow Dizon, Joel Gillman, Daire McMahon

Lower budget filmmaking often turns to horror because you can do a lot with very little, if you’re skilled enough. When you have to ask yourself ‘how do we keep people to a minimum amount of locations?’, the base-under-siege storyline is one of the ones to wheel out. You have something outside physically stopping our characters from going out of the base (house, plane, underwater base, etc), and let the squabbling between those trapped inside do most of the heavy lifting. When Arcadian adds in slight feelings of the cosy apocalypse, it’s a theoretical perfect mix for the lower end of the financial spectrum if you want to make a good little film.

With Nicholas Cage playing Paul, father to Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins), they’re in the fifteen-years-later post-apocalypse. Every night they board their farmhouse up to stop something, or some things, getting in, and every day they go out to forage and reinforce the place, I Am Legend style. The brothers have grown up constantly fighting for their lives in the new world, and that doesn’t sit well with one of them, who just wants to experience something. The monsters can’t be that bad, right?

The film’s main issue is simple. It only has two modes: ON, or OFF.

When the film flicks the switch to ON, there are some astonishing moments. A very nice The Descent-like scene gives a good blast of action in a tight, confined underground space. Direction from Benjamin Brewer is mostly decent, and considering he helped with the visual effects on Everything Everywhere All At Once, when the monsters show up, they’ve got one or two nice differences from your average four-legged crawler to make them a little more memorable. Their group movements are certainly inventive. One thousand praises should be heaped on a particular sequence involving one of the monsters breaking into a house, an arm extending across the room slowly, the camera holding on it, never moving away. It is the standout moment of the film, and one guaranteed to send shivers down the spine based on how pure and simple it is.

The cast is mostly decent, and the most is made with a smaller budget. When they come together to go all out, it goes all out, and is on much surer footing.

Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins in Benjamin Brewer’s ARCADIAN. Courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder. An RLJE Films and Shudder Release.

But the film also has an OFF setting, with seemingly nowhere between its two poles. When everything moves, the film properly shifts. A finale in true Dog Soldiers fashion is what the film should have been going for – twice, if not three times, the length of the showdown it gives us. But when it is down, trying to engage us with the people of nearby Rose Farm who are utterly bland and uninteresting, all tension and intrigue drops from the film. It seems like a The Day of the Triffids-style community set up, but the protection, after fifteen years, is non-existent. It seems a world apart from the other farmhouse, for no reason other than to set up the pastoral image that allows the film to have its name, Arcadian.

The juxtaposition also doesn’t allow us a glimpse into how the setup of this new rural life works. Their contrasting lifestyles are too different to be that close together, and whenever we move from one place to another, the severe whiplash in pace, feel, tone, and drive feels like the film slamming on the brakes. It often takes it a moment of moving away from such settings to get back into the flow. It does help to set up some of the character moments, but these are mostly set apart from the horror-based action scenes. We have our disagreements here, and then our scare, and now back to the monsters.

There are two films here, two tones, shoved together in such a way that nothing feels right. Half the film is wonderful, tight and controlled, and filled with fear, the other incredibly dull and trying to be wide-ranging but failing due to its lack of opportunity to show its scope. This mismatch is a baffling creative choice that leaves Arcadian feeling like wasted potential – too good to be completely slated, but too dull to be completely praised. A straight shot down the middle of cinematic interest is where the film finds its final resting place.

Score: 12/24

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Arcadian is in cinemas 14 June

Featured Image: Nicolas Cage in Benjamin Brewer’s ARCADIAN. Courtesy of Patrick Redmond. An RLJE Films and Shudder Release.

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