top of page


Arcadian (15)

Director: Benjamin Brewer
Screenplay: Michael Nilon

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins
Running time: 92 minutes

Cinema release

Review: RJ Bland

The post-apocalyptic is a theme that refuses to go away. The fact that it is often tied in with the zombie sub-genre, means that since the turn of the century we’ve had our fair share of films centred around a small group of characters trying to survive after the breakdown of society. Think Birdbox (2018), A Quiet Place (2018), It Comes at Night (2017), The Last of Us (2023). Why have these types of films been so prevalent? Well, peace and order has always been fragile but right now it feels as if existential threats such as nuclear war, climate change and global pandemics present clear and present dangers that could impact us all over the next few decades. So, what better way to pre-empt these disasters than imagining what the world would be like after a near-extinction-level event. These films also wipe the slate clean and give people a chance to reinvent themselves in the new world order. Genre filmmakers switch out topics like climate change and nuclear war for aliens and monsters and other terrestrial threats because let’s face it, they’re more fun! Benjamin Brewer’s Arcadian is the latest film to re-ignite this well-trodden and saturated sub-genre.


The film opens with sirens and explosions as an unnamed city suffers an unknown apocalyptic event. A middle-aged man named Paul (Nicolas Cage) gathers supplies and then carefully makes his way back to a hidden shelter where we see he has two infant children to protect and feed. Just what you need when society crumbles eh? Flash forward 15 years and Paul has managed to keep his two boys alive, and they live out their days at a remote farmhouse, scavenging during the day and then securing their home at night. This is important, because although we don’t know why the world as we know it has seemingly ended, we do know that the nocturnal creatures thumping on the farmhouse door at night and trying to get in are NOT friendly. Paul runs a tight ship – a necessity if you want to survive this new world. However, his sons are quite different and are beginning to butt heads more and more. Joseph (Jaeden Martell) is the withdrawn, studious type whilst his brother Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) is more adventurous and impulsive and is itching to get out of the house as much as he can. Mainly, to another nearby (and better equipped) farm, where a burgeoning love interest resides. ‘You can’t stop the grass from growing’, Paul tells Joseph when he asks his dad why he lets his brother journey there so regularly. As long Thomas is back by sunset then there is no issue. But when one evening he doesn’t return home, Paul and Joseph are forced to go looking for him…


Anyone going into Arcadian expecting a balls-to-the-wall horror flick (ala Mandy) with Nicolas Cage going full Cage will be left rather disappointed. Whilst we do get some genuine horror in the first hour, most of the action comes in a frantic last fifteen minutes or so. Until then we are firmly in dystopian drama territory, albeit with a smartly worked undercurrent of simmering tension. Cage is fine as the resolute father of this particular family unit, but audiences will undoubtedly be hoping to see a typical full-spectrum performance that ranges from sombre to utterly eccentric. Well, we get plenty of the former and none of the latter. Some will say it’s a waste of his talents, but you know what, sometimes Nic probably just wants to do something a little less whacky – and that’s totally ok. It’s also worth noting that he’s not really the main character here either as Arcadian is more focused on the volatile relationship between his sons. And it’s one that threatens to put them all in imminent danger. Writer - and frequent Cage collaborator - Mike Nilon astutely gives them both equal importance in his script and Martell and Jenkins are both good enough to make these characters easy to root for, despite their obvious flaws.


It's not unfair to say that Arcadian doesn’t bring anything especially new or original to the world of dystopian sci-fi drama. The plotting and set up are rather routine. It is also sparse in its storytelling in many ways and for good reason. We never spend any time on who Nicolas Cage’s character was before the modern world ended. We don’t find out what happened to the mother of his children and we are given no real clues as to what these things are that come out at night, how they got here or what they want. Some film makers would shy away from this level of ambiguity for fear of frustrating audiences who want more context but here it helps retain a sense of intrigue and mystery. The creatures themselves are interesting and although they lose a little of their fear factor the more we see them, they are probably the most inventive element of the film. There’s one particular scene where one of the creatures tries to reach one of our characters through a hole in a door that is delightfully creepy.


Technically, Arcadian is impressive enough for you to keep an eye out for what director, Benjamin Brewer does next. Shot in Ireland, the lush pastoral vistas are beautiful yet there’s something sinister in the silence and the darkness that soon follows. The haunting score from Kristin Kontrol is a perfect match too and adds an extra level of quiet menace to proceedings.

Although Arcadian doesn’t break the post-apocalyptic wheel, it’s a carefully controlled and efficiently tense thriller propelled by three strong central performances.
bottom of page