What happens at the end of the world? That’s the question that Arcadian asks the audience; between some of the intrigue of how this variation of an apocalypse and the characters, there’s a bit here that works. However, it all really feels like we’ve seen this story before. The story of Arcadian starts off much more intriguing than it ends. It stars Nicolas Cage as Paul, a man who’s saved two boys from whatever destruction happened in the pre-pocalypse times. The boys, Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) and Joseph (Jaeden Martell), are at the tender ages where boys become men; they start challenging the constraints put on by their parents. In that way, Arcadian does a good job.

The first half of the film shows all the preparations that Paul goes through to keep his family safe from what comes out at night. The house gets locked up to the gills. Those preparations make it feel like the story is going to head one way, possibly with Paul being an overbearing parent about a threat that isn’t actually threatening. Thomas continually pushes Paul’s boundaries going to a place called the Rose Garden where a girl named Charlotte (Sadie Soverall) lives. Together those two cultivate a relationship and eventually it blossoms.

As it goes on, the threat from the outside grows into a very real thing when Thomas is late coming back home one day. He slips and falls, and in an utterly tense scene, he slams down into a ravine, unconscious. When Joseph returns home without him, Paul has to set out to find his son.

It’s here where a bit of the shine on Arcadian comes off. Nicolas Cage is absolutely masterful as Paul, not going into full Cage-rage mode, but the dude knows how to play this character like its the back of his hand. He finds Thomas and decides they have to spend the night in this ravine. Meanwhile, Joseph is left to take care of the house. What follows ends up as the most tense and unsettling scene in the entire film. Joseph looks to have fallen asleep, and not completed the full rounds of locking up.

The beasts come knocking and eventually undo a latch for the peephole. An eerie long arm slowly moves into frame toward the sleeping boy. I won’t spoil it, but it is heart-pounding to say the least. However, that’s the peak of Arcadian. Once the monsters are revealed, the only true terror left is when they inevitably start attacking people. Their movements and mannerisms are pretty creepy, but it never reaches the point that the audience is at when they’re still a mystery.

The rest of the story follows a pretty stock arc from these types of movies. Things go poorly, the boys have to find medicine for Paul, and it all leads to an explosive conclusion. That’s not to say that Arcadian is bad by any means though. The story feels all too familiar at a certain point. It might be that the mystery of the monsters couldn’t carry an entire script or something else. It feels like the story of Cage and how he found the boys could have been expanded a bit more. We’re left wondering what he’s running away from, but we don’t get much to work with on where Paul came from.

This movie is built on the back of an outstanding Nicolas Cage performance. It’s carried by a heart-pounding and intriguing first half that falls a bit short in the back half of the film. If you’re in the mood for a moody, slower-paced apocalyptic tale, Arcadian is worth a watch.

Arcadian is in theaters now and releases on Shudder and AMC+ later in the year.

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