Home Movies Movie Reviews Truly Unsettling Monsters Buoy Arcadian

Truly Unsettling Monsters Buoy Arcadian

The latest in post-apocalyptic thrillers has Nicholas Cage fighting off some of the creepiest monsters you've seen.


Creature Features really live and die by their creatures. That seems obvious, but it’s kind of amazing how many movies really don’t grasp that concept. For every Alien or Godzilla, there are a whole bunch of Velocipastors and Sharknados. For every Jaws, there’s a dozen Jaws 3D.

So by having some of the freakiest and most unsettling monsters I’ve seen in a movie in a while, Arcadian has already won the battle. I am not kidding. These are some nightmarish creations—a mix of spiders and wolves and cockroaches with extendable limbs and claws. Which is great, because that helps paper over the pretty standard issue post-apocalypse survival plot.

Image Credit: Saturn Films

Nicolas Cage stars as Paul. On the day the world was ending, he found two babies while scavenging and he brought them up on his rundown little farm. Fifteen years later, the boys are growing up. Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) is eager to see life beyond the narrow confines of the farm, especially their neighbors, the Roses, who have a pretty teen daughter named Charlotte (Sadie Soverall). Joseph (Jaeden Martell) is more introverted and prefers to spend his time fixing up the items they scavenge, like a broken down golf cart, and trying to study the creatures attacking them. But they both have to be back inside at sundown, because that is when “they” come out.

Image Credit: Saturn Films

“They” are the aforementioned monsters. Night after night, they scratch at the boarded up windows and dig their long claws under the door frames, trying to get in. They seem to have limbs that continually unfold and extend, with claws that can grow and grow. Traveling in packs by clumping into a ball and rolling around, when they get close, they start clapping their jaws in a rapid fire way that seems to mesmerize their prey.

No one is really sure where these critters came from. There are a couple of theories mentioned, but those are in the context of a game the teens play—”badly describe the apocalypse in ten seconds”—and they seem to tell something about a bug getting mutated by pollution and then those bugs attacking humans. It really doesn’t matter. This isn’t the kind of movie where plucky youngsters find The Cure or something. It’s all about surviving.

The director, Benjamin Brewer, is either very savvy or very lucky and I can’t quite decide which. There is a lot of handheld shaky-cam, which is an irritant at first, but then it really helps to obscure the monsters and make them even more frightening, with their black fur waving as they skitter about. He really likes to foreshadow events. Thomas leaps over a crevasse every time he runs to the Roses’ farm, and the way the camera lingers on the rocks on the edges you know exactly what’s going to happen, and sure enough, Thomas falls in. But that foreshowing pays off in spades later on with lingering shots of a window lock that doesn’t quite latch, and that definitely does not go the way you’d think.

This is Brewer’s first feature as a director. He previously worked on the visual effects for Everything Everywhere All At Once, which helps to explain why he got such great monster effects on a tight budget.

The actors all acquit themselves well. Cage is in restrained mode here, playing the concerned parent. He’s great as usual, but the film could’ve honestly used a jolt of the  Vampire’s Kiss Rage Cage at times. The two teens—Jenkins and Martell—are both good, doing a lot to establish their bond as brothers who love each other despite their bickering and wanting very different things. Still, there’s a lot of fairly predictable apoca-plot to get through. (Someone gets hurt. Some people aren’t as nice as they seem…)

Still, the monster moments are terrific. I’m going to be thinking about their clacking jaws and endlessly unfolding limbs for quite a while.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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