SXSW 2024: Arcadian – a tight, somewhat flawed monster thriller

Photo by Laurie Coker

Benjamin Brewer’s post-apocalyptic thriller, ‘ Arcadian, ‘ is a decently captivating tale of survival and familial bonds in a world ravaged by unknown horrors. Premiering to a packed house at SXSW 2024, the film immerses audiences in a haunting landscape where the familiar sounds of nature signal both safety and danger.

At its core, ‘Arcadian’ follows Paul (Nicolas Cage) and his two sons, Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) and Joseph (Jaeden Martell), as they navigate the remnants of civilization in a world overrun by enigmatic monsters. Brewer’s narrative expertly captures the tension of their daily existence, from foraging for resources to fortifying their homestead against nocturnal threats. He creates a tight, personal setting forced by the inhabitants’ dire situation, drawing in the audience.

The film’s strength lies in its portrayal of familial dynamics against the backdrop of uncertainty. Cage delivers a nuanced performance as Paul, a protective father determined to shield his sons from the horrors outside their sanctuary. Jenkins and Martell shine as Thomas and Joseph embody the complexities of adolescence in a world stripped of normalcy.

While ‘Arcadian’ excels in its character-driven moments, some viewers may find its sparse world-building and lack of context frustrating. The film tantalizes with glimpses of a shattered society but leaves many questions unanswered, opting instead to focus on its protagonists’ intimate struggles.

However, where ‘Arcadian’ truly shines is in its creature design and suspenseful sequences. With their grotesque appearance and menacing presence, the monsters instill a sense of primal fear that permeates every frame. Brewer’s direction masterfully builds tension, culminating in heart-pounding encounters that leave audiences on the edge of their seats.

Moreover, the film’s young cast delivers standout performances, particularly Sadie Soverall as Charlotte, Thomas’ love interest. Their burgeoning romance adds depth to the narrative, contrasting moments of tenderness against the backdrop of chaos and danger. Jaeden is the trio’s most seasoned, and his performance grounds the others. Jenkins, as Thomas, brings a necessary recklessness to the tale, causing most of the group’s problems.

As the story unfolds, ‘Arcadian’ reveals itself as a poignant exploration of resilience and the enduring power of familial bonds. Despite its flaws, the film captivates with its atmospheric visuals, compelling performances, and relentless suspense.

In the end, ‘Arcadian’ is more than just a creature feature—it’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity. Brewer’s directorial debut leaves a lasting impression, offering audiences a thrilling and emotionally resonant journey into the heart of darkness. While it is far from perfect, ‘Arcadian’ manages to be a tight thriller.

Leave a comment