The creatures in Arcadian do something I’ve never seen before. They have large duck-like bills filled with razor-sharp teeth, and they rapidly snap their jaws as a form of attack. It’s scary, as are the sound effects used to accentuate that snapping, which have a grating sonic quality you can’t help but flinch at. The movie doesn’t tell us what the creatures are or where they came from, not that it matters. They’re significant to the story, but two human brothers are the genuine focus.

In a scenario similar to A Quiet Place, the world has ended, presumably due to whatever spawned these monsters. Even the few remaining survivors don’t know exactly what happened. Paul (Nicolas Cage) lives in an old farmhouse with his teenage sons Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins). They’re safe by day; at nighttime, they barricade themselves inside to avoid the nocturnal monsters that want to get in. Conflict exists between the boys. Thomas resents that Joseph is the smart one his dad relies on. Joseph resents that Thomas gets to do whatever he wants, which is usually going to a farm down the road to see a pretty girl named Charlotte (Saltburn’s Sadie Soverall).

Arcadian focuses on the dynamic between the teenagers and their stern, yet loving father, who works tirelessly to instill survivor’s instincts in them. The monsters digging their way up from the ground causes the characters to have a series of conflicts that, if unresolved, could seal their doom. Although technically a horror movie, there’s a big emphasis on sibling rivalry here. Seeing how it shows itself – and how Paul is powerless to stop it – makes for a lot of tension. Martell and Jenkins create a believable bond as siblings, allowing us to feel the love there, even when they’re practically at each other’s throats.

The third act is where Arcadian most fully jumps into what you expect from the genre, as the creatures launch a full-bore assault that puts everyone to the test. Director Benjamin Brewer relies too much on a shaky hand-held camera that occasionally makes it difficult to see what’s happening. It’s still deeply eerie to watch these gruesome beings unexpectedly emerging from the ground, and even more eerie when they do the jaw-snapping thing. Michael Nilon’s screenplay devises a smart way for the humans to fight back. This is not one of those cases like Signs where the characters find a simple, random way to ward off their attackers.

Like many good horror films, Arcadian uses its otherworldly premise to examine human behavior. The love-hate nature of sibling relationships is effectively dramatized by having the central brothers take on snarling monsters. High quality visual effects and a subdued yet authoritative performance from Nicolas Cage add to the impact.

out of four

Arcadian is rated R for bloody images. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan