Paul (Nic Cage, left), Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins, center), and Joseph (Jaeden Martell, right) practice driving a small offroad vehicle through a valley in a post-apocalyptic world | Agents of Fandom

SXSW 2024: Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Arcadian’ Throws Nic Cage Into a Post-Apocalyptic World

Arcadian is a thrilling and effective creature feature that maximizes its strangeness and compassion.

Post-apocalyptic thrillers are always a toss-up — they generally elicit a boundless bouquet of narrative and visual possibilities but most of the time they are victims of their own creation, drowning in the plethora of possibilities, never sticking to one or two strongly enough to really make a memorable film. Arcadian, from director Ben Brewer, does the opposite; it knows exactly the type of sci-fi and creature feature thrills it wants to deliver and it does so with pinpoint accuracy, amassing a fun film in the end.

‘Arcadian’ Offers Up Both Thrills and Emotions

Paul (Nic Cage, center) and his son Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins, right) run around their property to search for shelter before nightfall in Arcadian. Image Credit: RLJE Films
The world of Arcadian is one where you don’t want to be caught out after dark. Image Credit: RLJE Films.

Arcadian opens with a long one-shot, reminiscent of Alfonso Cuarón‘s iconic film Children of Men, following Paul (Nicolas Cage) through the side streets of a thoroughly transformed world. Stone walls, watchtowers, and a deafening aura of hopelessness permeate the world much like the unclean air that supposedly caused this fallout. The impressive camerawork from cinematographer Frank Mobilio ends with Paul arriving at a safehouse with two baby children he quickly embraces.

Flash forward 15 years and Paul, along with the two babies who turn out to be his sons Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins), has swiftly aged and the world we were initially introduced to is no longer present. The family now resides in a home in the countryside, away from people and away from the creatures that stalk the night.

Save for a “neighboring” family down the road where Thomas’s love interest lives, Paul, Thomas, and Joseph really only have each other. Each night, they arrive back at their house just before the sun sets to secure their doors and windows with hefty pieces of wood in hopes of keeping whatever lives outside, out. When Thomas fails to return home one evening before dark, Paul braves the darkness to find him, ultimately suffering the same fate as Thomas — slipping down a crevasse in the middle of the forest.

From then on out, Arcadian evenly balances both the shocking visuals of the creatures from which they are trying to survive — think an amalgamation of something out of movies like Annihilation, NOPE, and A Quiet Place — and the grounded, hopeful nature at the center of the script. Shot on location in Ireland, the critter-infested world presented to the audience feels homey, adding to the satisfyingly contained nature of the flick and the haunting possibility of its realism.

Crazy Creatures Cannot Overcome the Contained Film

The film, however, is just that: contained. It doesn’t necessarily need more lore or understanding of the world baked in, but with its lack of said mythologies, it exceeds past a small-time sci-fi story with a hopeful future about the power of family.

Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins, along with Sadie Soverall, who plays Maxwell’s girlfriend Charlotte and is one of my favorite parts of the film, all work in unison to provide the movie with relatability and soul — a juxtaposed feature to that of the ultra-weird on-screen creatures at the center of the story.

As expected, Nic Cage is Nic Cage — commanding, hilarious, and an all-powerful presence when in the frame. While I would’ve liked to see more from him and Paul’s story (the movie, unfortunately, sidelines him for much too long), when he is at the center of the screen along with the narrative is when the movie works best. The action and pacing deliver rather conventionally, slowly ratcheting up to an intense final act that feels deserved as much as expected.

Arcadian, while it does spark with moments of ingenuity, cleverness, and just plain fun, conclusively ignites a campfire rather than burning down the house. The confined nature of a grounded sci-fi narrative mixed with some damn impressive visuals works well together, allowing space to explore both what makes the movie interesting (the creatures) and what makes the movie tick (the independently spirited family drama). At the very least, the film offers another opportunity to see Nic Cage delivering on being Nic Cage, and that is always worth the price of admission alone.

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'Arcadian' SXSW 2024 Review

'Arcadian' SXSW 2024 Review
3 5 0 1
3.0 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • I've never seen creatures quite like this...
  • Blend of sci-fi and grounded emotionality deliver a well-rounded narrative.

The Bad

  • Nic Cage is sidelined for far too much of the movie.
  • It feels almost too contained in it's nature, depleting it's ability to set itself apart in the sci-fi genre.
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