A father and his twin teenage sons fight to survive in a remote farmhouse at the end of the end of the world.

Chuck says:

Life is tenuous for Paul and his family. Since society fell apart, he’s done his best to raise his two sons on his own. It hasn’t been easy. Food has been difficult to come by and there’s always the threat that other survivors will break into their modest home and take what little they’ve stored away. Yet, 15 years have passed since the cataclysm and the two boys have grown into young men, different in temperament but dependable in their own ways. However, Paul has a growing sense that it’s only a matter of time before tragedy hits, that they have been living on borrowed time. Afterall, there’s evidence that the things that creep around at night are getting smarter and that eventually they will be the family’s undoing.

Director Benjamin Brewer and writer Michael Nilon cover familiar ground in “Arcadian,” a dystopian drama that focuses on one family’s efforts to survive against insurmountable odds. John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” will likely come to mind often yet Brewer finds a unique approach to hook us, doing a fine job building suspense throughout while introducing moral conundrums along the way which have no easy answers.

Nilon keeps things purposely vague at the start.  We’re not quite sure what year it is and there’s never an explanation as to what’s truly gone awry, though the environment being ruined is mentioned throughout as being the cause of the tumult. Paul (Nicholas Cage) is strict about Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) adhering to his rules. Sharing meals and time together is important but chief among them is being indoors at night as violent, nocturnal creatures emerge from the ground once the sun goes down.

However, Thomas has been pushing the limits, as teenagers do, spending as much time as he can at a neighboring farm, where a young lady his age (Sadie Soverall) lives. Of course, when young love is involved, reason goes out the door and one evening he doesn’t return home, forcing Paul to go search for him, leaving Joseph to fend for himself. Chaos and tragedy ensue.

Initially, Brewer effectively employs a less-is-more approach where the subterranean creatures are concerned. Glimpses of them are caught, shadows are used to suggest their appearance and ominous sound effects are employed to establish these beings are not to be trifled with. However, as we come to see more of them, the result is underwhelming. Just what they do to their victims is left to our imagination while their intent is never explained. Appearing to be composed of leftover parts from a variety of movie monsters, they come off as comical and annoying rather than monstrous.

Be that as it may, Nilon’s approach to the moral conundrum that comes with living in a society that has broken down is intriguing. Friendships are put to the test as are familial bonds when one of the characters needs medical assistance. Questions regarding self-preservation and charitable acts come to the fore, while no easy solutions are given in terms of when societal values and mores become fluid.

As I said, there’s a sense of familiarity to the film, yet what makes it worthwhile is the intimacy Brewer and his cast establish. Using a handheld camera early on, the director capture father and sons in their most private moments – saying grace before a meal, Paul watching his boys play a game of chess, amazed at the men they are becoming – allowing the viewer to empathize and connect with them in a subtle, powerful way. At its core, “Arcadian” is about a family in crisis, its youngest members forced to choose between adhering to the teachings of their father or striking out on their own. This is a relatable situation many have contended with, whether there are monsters lurking in the dark or not.

3 Stars


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