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SXSW Review: “Arcadian”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 14th, 2024

ARCADIAN director Benjamin Brewer. Credit: Justin Hackworth

Arcadian (Benjamin Brewer, 2024) 2½ out of 5 stars

Arcadian, the solo feature-directorial debut of Benjamin Brewer (The Trust), who also does many of the film’s visual effects (which he also created for the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once), has some pretty nifty monsters. Hidden, at first—known only by sound—they later reveal themselves in all their hell-raising fury. It’s unfortunate that the world-building around them is not quite up to snuff.

The film opens 15 years prior to the present, with actor Nicolas Cage (Dream Scenario) running through a nightmarish scene of destruction, gunfire all around. When he reaches his destination, we see a baby. Cut to black.

l-r: Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins at SXSW 2024 @Christopher Llewellyn Reed

In the here and now, Paul (Cage) has two teenage sons, Joseph (Jaeden Martell, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins, Joe Bell), fraternal twins. They live in an isolated farmhouse that they batten down every evening to ward off attacks from mysterious creatures. It’s a nightly ritual.

Joseph is studious and obedient, and Paul (perhaps rightly so) thinks he’s a genius. Thomas is more rebellious, with his eye on the young woman, Charlotte (Sadie Soverall, Little Bone Lodge) at the other farmstead through the woods (a fair distance away). Since it takes everyone’s cooperation and coordination to keep the evil at bay, there soon must be a reckoning.

l-r: Benjamin Brewer and Sadie Soverall at SXSW 2024 @Christopher Llewellyn Reed

And there is, though the details are often too muddled to earn the hoped-for dramatic payoff. What does work is the creepiness of the monsters, who have extendable appendages and heads that vibrate in an increasingly rapid manner before they launch themselves at victims. They also form large rolling wheels by attaching themselves to each other, thereby forming terrifying vehicular weapons as a group.

Sadly, the surrounding narrative logic breaks down as soon as one thinks for even a moment about the universe of the story. In particular, what especially disturbs is the sudden progression of the creatures’ attacks, which, we are led to believe in the early scenes, have been going on for some time in a certain way. Why, now, do they change? And why is everyone—a group of hardy survivors—so unprepared to deal with the new threat?

l-r: Nicolas Cage, Maxwell Jenkins, and Jaeden Martell in ARCADIAN ©Arcadian

These are just some of the many questions that irk. That doesn’t mean the rest of the movie lacks entertainment value. Cage, Martell, Jenkins, and Soverall make for a highly engaging ensemble. Their personal interactions give Arcadian (the title refers to a “rural paradise”) what emotional heft it has. And there is much fun in watching the fight scenes. If only it all made a lick of sense.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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