‘Arcadian’ Review: Nic Cage-Led Monster Movie Manages Heart & Horror in Equal Measure

In Benjamin Brewer’s compelling solo directorial debut, “Arcadian,” humanity’s last remnants grapple with the harrowing aftermath of a mysterious apocalypse, where our species survival hangs by a thread amidst the looming threat of monstrous adversaries that come in the night. This atmospheric tale manages to blend family domesticity and raw emotion with gripping horror and excellent creature effects, weaving a fresh and engaging narrative. Despite this being a tale we’ve definitely seen before, the film should manage to make horror audiences clutch their pillows or popcorn with its sharply crafted scares and potentially even tug at the heartstrings of those with children.

“Arcadian” begins with the carefully constructed world of Paul (Nicolas Cage), a stoic patriarch (sorry, no “Cage Rage” to be found here), navigating a decaying world alongside his sons, Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins). A dutiful, loving parent, Paul creates strict rules for his children to abide by to keep them safe against all the mysterious dangers out in the dark.

READ MORE: ‘Arcadian’ Trailer: Nicolas Cage Plays A Father Keeping His Kids Alive In Post Apocalyptic Thriller

Set against a backdrop of desolate rural landscapes and crumbling structures, their existence is a delicate balance between perseverance and peril while also resembling a semblance of everyday teen life for the young boys—yes, even the most disastrous situation can be normalized. When Thomas ventures into the darkness to reunite with his crush, Charlotte (Sadie Soverall)—conveniently the only girl his age in the surrounding area—and finds himself ensnared in danger, Paul’s safety-first resolve is put to the ultimate test as he embarks on a desperate quest to save his son.

“Arcadian” transcends mere creature feature tropes, delving into the depths of human resilience and familial bonds strained to their limits. Penned by Michael Nilon (Nicolas Cage’s agent, manager, and producing partner), the screenplay navigates themes of isolation and survival in a world devoid of hope well enough while crafting an immersive experience with unique, ever-evolving creatures to keep horror-loving audiences on their toes.

The film’s early moments play more like a quiet indie drama, deftly establishing the intricate dynamics within the family unit, revealing Paul’s silent struggles, Thomas’s restless spirit, and Joseph’s yearning for independence in a world where childhood innocence is a distant memory. Yet, as darkness descends and the creatures emerge from the shadows, the genre elements take over, and the narrative escalates into a heart-pounding race against time each night.

While Nicolas Cage, as always, commands attention as the lead, again, quieter and more nuanced in this role, “Arcadian” is a testament to the strength and resilience of its youthful protagonists. Each character undergoes a profound transformation, their evolution mirroring the harsh realities of their surroundings (Cage is even sidelined at one point, and the film gives them generous time to shine). As the tension mounts and the monsters unleash their fury, the film’s emotional core remains steadfast, anchoring the audience in a visceral journey of coming-of-age survival. Do their decisions make a ton of sense? Not really, but they are teenagers, after all, without the father to guide them (arguably the film’s true theme),

Brewer’s direction infuses every frame with a sense of foreboding, capturing the desolate beauty of the post-apocalyptic landscape with haunting precision. Enhanced by a haunting score and atmospheric cinematography, “Arcadian” immerses viewers in a world teetering on the brink of collapse, where every shadow conceals a potential threat. Yes, if you’ve seen “A Quiet Place,” “Bird Box,” or “28 Days Later,” you know exactly what to expect, but the film manages to inject unique personality through its talented young actors and some truly remarkable monster movie magic that broadly looks practical and not unlike the puppetry work of Jim Henson. Like its quality predecessors, “Arcadian” is more than a mere horror film; it’s a haunting meditation on the fragility of humanity and the enduring power of hope in the face of despair. It turns out that mixing heart with horror still works. [B]

Arcadian” opens April 12 via RLJE Films.