“Arcadian” Is a Touching Reminder to Teach Our Children Well

Every parent wonders what kind of world they’ll leave behind for their children. Have we amassed enough resources to provide for them? WIll the systems we’ve built be strong enough to withstand the passage of time? Will the earth still be inhabitable when they’re ready to have children of their own? We spend a great deal of time contemplating this abstract concept, but how often do we think about the moment in which they’ll actually take the torch? Have we prepared them to stand on their own when we’re no longer around to protect them? Benjamin Brewer’s Arcadian may present a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by terrifying creatures, but the true terror lies in the moment our generation falls away and the next is left to sink or swim.  

Arcadian opens with a world collapsing. Bombs rain down and everyone still alive runs for cover. Paul (Nicolas Cage) rushes through a falling city, stopping when he hears the cries of a baby. It’s only after he’s picked up the wailing infant that we notice another child in his arms. Fifteen or so years later, Paul is now dad to two teenage boys. Though clearly a tight family unit, Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) bicker and tease each other like unruly siblings while Paul tries to keep the fragile peace. The outgoing Thomas spends as much time as he can at a neighboring homestead while quietly courting the farmer’s daughter Charlotte (Sadie Soverall). The studious Joseph is content to stay closer to home, helping his father with upkeep of the house while studying the monstrous creatures that creep through the night. Each day when the sun goes down, they eat dinner as a family then lock up tight to protect against these monstrous attacks. When Thomas doesn’t return before darkness falls, Paul is forced out into the night to find his lost son. But the mysterious beasts seem to be forming clans of their own and coordinate an attack that could put the entire valley at risk. 

On the surface, Arcadian looks like standard post-apocalyptic fare. Survivors of a vague world-wide disaster try to recapture normalcy and struggle to remain civil in a world turned upside down. What stands out is Mike Nilon’s heartfelt script and captivating performances led by a young cast stepping into the spotlight themselves. Cage headlines the film as a worried father determined to protect his sons, but he’s sidelined early on and the story truly revolves around the younger generation. Martell and Jenkins pull us in with their relatable sibling rivalry in a world that allows for no mistakes. Soverall is also endearing as a privileged child struggling to accept her parents’ isolationist tendencies. This trio of survivors will inherit the world if they’re brave enough to put everything they’ve been taught into practice. The film is at its best when it centers their struggle to accept the torch of leadership as the older generation’s time inevitably runs out. 

Arcadian is ultimately a family drama, but Brewer does not skimp on the monsters. We’re first introduced to these ferocious beasts when they bang against the heavily fortified doors at night. Long scrapes across the thick wood later reveal how close they’ve come to infiltrating the house. These shapeshifting creatures feel like a deadly cross between a spider and an alligator with eerie intelligence and the ability to change their bodies at will. One particularly horrifying element is a rapidly gnashing set of sharp teeth that feels like a sonic precursor used to overwhelm their prey. Family squabbles fall away as an army of these nocturnal nightmares decimate this colony of frightened survivors. 

Both harrowing and joyful, Arcadian expertly navigates a complex menagerie of emotions. One family forms as the makeshift clans of past necessity finally fall apart. As the adults continue to cling to the systems of the past, it’s their children who find a way to move forward. The film is a beautiful reminder that everything we’ve built will eventually crumble leaving our children to contend with what we’ve left behind. Hopefully we’ve taught them well enough to inherit our memories and use the knowledge we’ve built to surpass our struggles and create a better world.  

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.