The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Arcadian

By George & Josh Bate

Arcadian review

From The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to Pig, Academy Award winning actor Nicolas Cage has reentered the public eye in recent years with a series of high profile films. As the fictionalized version of Cage says in Massive Talent, though, “not that we went anywhere.”

Cage didn’t have a domestic theatrically released film for a number of years, and instead worked on a number of smaller, indie projects. The National Treasure star didn’t actually go anywhere, he just began to make very different kinds of movies to the ones he became known for in the 1990s and 2000s. Cage proved that he can be a big action star with films like The Rock and Con Air, and in some of his indie projects in the last decade or so, he showcases how his talent works in smaller, more intimate films as well.

Cage’s latest work is Arcadian, a horror/thriller film which sees the actor play Paul, a father to two boys – Thomas (played by Maxwell Jenkins) and Joseph (played by Jaeden Martell), Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, Paul and his sons live on a farm in a remote forest, with their nearest neighbors – the Rose family – quite a distance away. During the day, Paul and his sons live their lives outside, but, when, night falls, mysterious creatures converge on their house and endanger the family.

Arcadian review

If that plot description sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Narratively, Arcadian very much aligns with the likes of It Comes at Night, The Last of Us, and A Quiet Place. Other than the presence of the legendary Cage in the lead role, the film does little to distinguish itself from other, similar post-apocalyptic horror/thrillers. The similarities between Arcadian and A Quiet Place are particularly salient. The creatures bear a resemble to those in John Krasinski’s film and the post-apocalyptic landscape is akin to the world Krasinski’s films are set in. Both films also center on a small family unit and feature a father who will do anything to ensure the safety of his children. Unfortunately, where the films diverge is in their levels of suspense. At times, Arcadian is quite suspenseful, especially in its engaging first half. However, the suspense levels decrease as the film progresses as the film never quite hits the apex of intensity the slew of similar films have done before.

Part of this difficulty in sustaining suspense is due to an over-reliance on shaky cam and close ups. The film’s action sequences are scripted and acted well, especially by Martell, but are difficult to discern what’s actually going on. With the camera positioned so close to the characters and creatures, the film often replaces its sense of suspense with confusion. Where are the characters right now? What just happened? Viewers will likely ponder these questions as they struggle to get a grasp on the film’s action sequences.

Where the film excels is its focus on the family unit. The film begins with Cage’s character Paul making his way through seemingly early days of the post-apocalyptic world, before coming upon two babies that he takes in. Fifteen years later and the babies have grown up into Martell’s Joseph and Jenkins’ Thomas. Joseph is more insular and more likely to follow their father’s orders. Thomas, meanwhile, is a bit more rebellious and frequently finds time to journey to the Rose family’s farm as wishes to spend time with a girl named Charlotte (played by Sadie Soverall). With Joseph and Thomas’ differing personalities and, in turn, decisions, the film interestingly explores the theme of family loyalty. What is the right thing to do – stick with one’s own family or join/begin a new one? Arcadian may struggle under the weight of expectation for its horror elements, but there’s greater success found in its exploration of intriguing family dynamics.

Arcadian review

The head of this family is Paul, played by Nicolas Cage, who delivers a surprisingly understated performance in the film. This isn’t a flashy performance at all (i.e., none of his scenes will appear in a Nicolas Cage funniest lines compilation on YouTube). There’s no drug-induced psychedelic scene like in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, nor is Cage screaming in terror about bees attacking him. In many films, Cage spices up the story with a wild and unpredictable performance, but he does the opposite in Arcadian, taking a relative backseat to allow the story to focus more so on Martell and Jenkins’ characters. In producing such an understated performance, Cage once again shows why he’s one of the best actors working today. His career has garnered significant attention for his more bombastic performances, which detracts from a recognition of the incredible variability among Cage’s performances. In Arcadian, the actor manages to captivate and intrigue without such a heightened performance, enabling the story to really linger on Martell and Jenkins’ characters and, in turn, letting these young actors flourish.

As the film progresses, Cage’s role diminishes, and so does the film’s ability to retain interest. The first half of the film is relatively strong and gripping, although it trails off with disjointed plotting. The pieces are there to make for an engaging post-apocalpyic thriller, but they simply don’t come together in what amounts to a film that steadily loses its way as the runtime progresses.

Contributing to this issue is the fictional world the characters inhabit in Arcadian. An exchange between Soverall’s Charlotte and Jenkins’ Thomas sees the characters play a game in which they try to summarize how the world ended in under 10 seconds. Their respective answers to this question provide the only explicit insight the audience is ever given on the state of the world. This ambiguity initially intrigues, although the film desperately warrants greater expansion of its fictional world. While questions don’t necessarily need to be answered explicitly, Arcadian struggles in establishing the world in which it is set in, making it difficult to fully understand what threat the characters are under.

VERDICT: 5/10

Arcadian sees the legendary Nicolas Cage produce an understated performance and take a backseat to allow young actors Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins to flourish. An engaging first half and intriguing set-up make for a promising post-apocalyptic thriller that, ultimately, fails to distinguish itself from the myriad of other, similar films. Finding greater success with its focus on the theme of family loyalty, Arcadian suffers from disjointed plotting and pacing and confusion direction. Nicolas Cage has certainly had a resurgence in popularity and acclaim in recent years – it’s just a shame that Arcadian, despite its initial promise, struggles to amount to more than a conventional post-apocalyptic horror/thriller.

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