2024, NR, 91 min. Directed by Benjamin Brewer. Starring Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Joe Dixon, Samantha Coughlan.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 12, 2024

In another world, Joseph (Martell) would probably be winning medals at science club and thinking about college, while Thomas (Jenkins) would be hanging out after class, trying to spend a few extra minutes with Charlotte (Soverall), the girl next door.

But the world of Arcadian is not that world. In the Irish horror, which premiered at the 2024 South by Southwest Film & Television Festival, school life has vaporized, and normalcy ripped apart. For the past 15 years, the two teenage boys have lived in a farmhouse with their father, Paul (Nicolas Cage), piecing together something like an ordinary life while hiding at night from the monsters that claw at the door.

And yet, those ordinary pursuits are basically what they’re doing here. Scriptwriter Michael Nilon (Cage’s manager, and producer of several of his films including The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent gives them space to be normal teens – or rather, as normal as this world of fanged creatures and nocturnal fear allows them to be. Or, more importantly, as normal as Paul can make it.

The exact nature of the apocalypse is unclear, and the only true glimpse of it is in a pre-credit sequence of Paul fleeing through the wreckage of a bombed-out city and stumbling across the abandoned boys as infants. It’s an essential scene, not for exposition but for character development. Cage’s Paul is a devoted father, and the boys are his whole purpose in life. Moreover, Jenkins and Martell pull off the near-impossible and communicate the weirdness of being reared by a Cage character. In films like Dream Scenario, Mom and Dad, and even Con Air, Cage is cast to be at odds with hearth and home. Here, he truly feels like their father, and the young actors find their characters’ idiosyncrasies without ever seeming like they’re mimicking his mega-acting. They feel like family.

So when Thomas breaks curfew to visit Charlotte’s farm, Paul’s not angry. He’s terrified, and their reunion feels special in modern cinema because Paul remains the adult. Too often, the kid in such cinematic scenarios ends up teaching the parent some life lesson. Instead, Nilon’s script depicts a different and deeply compassionate dynamic between father and sons. It’s all built upon Paul’s commitment to saving the humanity of his charges through the world he knew, a world of driving lessons and first kisses and family dinners and making sure to lock the doors before bedtime.

Because here undoubtedly be monsters. Whether they caused or were caused by the blight that struck the land is unclear and unimportant. Nilon’s script paints it as ancient history to the kids (as poignantly explained in a charming scene between Thomas and Charlotte). However, they are undoubtedly terrifying, made all the more unearthly by being inserted into Frank Mobilio’s handheld cinematography. Director Ben Brewer (a VFX veteran from Everything Everywhere All At Once and his brother Alex (in charge of 3D creature design and modeling) have evolved possibly the most innovative monster design since the man-deer-god chimera of The Ritual, an almost cartoonish mixture of impossible joints and teeth. Every time you think you have its physiognomy figured, some new sinew stretches or fluid erupts, something else to which the boys have to respond. This is, after all, their story, and Cage steps aside so that we can see them grow and flourish.

A version of this review previously ran during the 2024 SXSW Film & Television Festival.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Nicolas Cage Films
Dream Scenario
Nic Cage leads a strange satire about public perception

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 17, 2023

Sympathy for the Devil
Nicolas Cage goes old school in this unhinged midnight noir

Richard Whittaker, July 28, 2023

More by Richard Whittaker
Angels, Devils, and Jim Cummings at <i>The Last Stop in Yuma County</i>
Angels, Devils, and Jim Cummings at The Last Stop in Yuma County
The indie icon breaks down his new dusty noir and its ensemble

May 17, 2024

Fifty Years of Movie Magic at the Alamo Village
Fifty Years of Movie Magic at the Alamo Village
Oldest operating theatre in town adds Vulcan Video rentals

May 16, 2024


Arcadian, Benjamin Brewer, Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Joe Dixon, Samantha Coughlan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle