Arcadian review – Nicolas Cage lies low in tense post-apocalyptic thriller

<span>Fear on the farm … l to r, Nicolas Cage, Maxwell Jenkins and Jaeden Martell in Arcadian.</span><span>Photograph: Courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder</span>
Fear on the farm … l to r, Nicolas Cage, Maxwell Jenkins and Jaeden Martell in Arcadian.Photograph: Courtesy of RLJE Films and Shudder

Gareth Edwards’ 2010 calling card Monsters showed what you could do with a small budget, a handful of actors, a post-apocalyptic scenario and a good grasp of digital special effects. And this pretty much does the same for director Benjamin Brewer, formerly VFX director on Everything Everywhere All at Once; his feature debut is a lean and competent, albeit generic, thriller, with the added benefit of Nicolas Cage.

In truth, Cage takes a bit of a back seat here. He’s a stern, survivalist single dad raising two teenage sons in a rural middle-of-nowhere (it was shot in Ireland), 15 years into some apocalyptic alien invasion, or something (it’s never really explained what happened). The ground rules are quickly established: whatever it is that’s out there, it comes at night and pounds and scratches the doors, which means the family must barricade themselves in their farmhouse every evening but are free to roam and scavenge during the day. The boys don’t really get along: Joseph (Jaeden Martell) is a nervy, brainy 17-year-old; his younger brother Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) would rather spend time at the better-resourced Rose farm nearby, where there’s a girl he’s interested in. The family’s disciplined routine gets disrupted, however, when Thomas falls into a crevasse in the woods one day.

We kind of know where this is headed after movies like Monsters, A Quiet Place, or even the underrated The Survivalist, but there’s just enough character drama to keep us invested, and some good moments of tension and terror, escalating to an action-packed climax. What’s more, the first rule of the genre is scrupulously obeyed: hold off showing the monsters for as long as possible, and make them decent when you do (that VFX know-how comes in handy). In short, it’s an effective little thriller that knows the conventions and doesn’t stray too far from them. Edwards went on to direct big-budget franchise movies Godzilla and Rogue One and you can see Brewer following in his footsteps. The only real complaint is the film’s underuse of Cage, who keeps it disappointingly dialled down. Given the opportunity, he’s the greatest special effect of them all.

• Arcadian is in UK cinemas from 14 June.