Arcadian: Nicholas Cage vs slimy monsters shouldn’t be this dull

Nicolas Cage as Paul, Maxwell Jenkins as Thomas and Jaeden Martell as Joseph in Arcadian
Nicolas Cage as Paul, Maxwell Jenkins as Thomas and Jaeden Martell as Joseph in Arcadian - RLJE Films/Shudder

The idea of Nicolas Cage fighting off slimy post-apocalyptic monsters is a grabby, if basic one. Cage fans tempted towards Arcadian by that log-line need an immediate caveat: he is first-billed in it, naturally, but only in it for 30 minutes tops, if you were to tot up his scenes. He sits out the entire second act injured, having barely survived an explosion underground. There’s not much of him later, either.

The main two characters in this action-horror-survival flick, Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins), are twins, and Cage’s sons. This trio are living on their wits on a farmhouse in the Irish countryside, after an undefined cataclysm that has opened the world to scavenging intruders – hideous things resembling mutant dinosaurs, which only hunt at night.

The film, from the team of writer-producer Michael Nilon and director Benjamin Brewer, isn’t fussed about explaining what has actually happened, or where these creatures came from. And that’s fine – we’re simply plunged into an evolving situation without dawdling our way through ancient history.

The problem is what we have to dawdle through instead. We wait 20 minutes at a stretch for any burst of scary activity, which is only unleashed after dark: when Thomas tumbles down a crevasse at sunset, and Cage’s Paul tries to save him, say. The daylight scenes are devoid of tension, unless you count the brothers squabbling.

While Martell (It; The Book of Henry) is shaping up as a promisingly odd actor who can breathe life into his dialogue, the budding teen romance between Thomas and their neighbour Charlotte (Saltburn’s Sadie Soverall) is generic goo-goo eyes stuff, merely eating up the running time.

First-time director Brewer was the visual effects supervisor on Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s this department that’s his forte, rather than marshalling actors, or stitching scenes together with functional continuity.

The creatures are heard before they’re seen, and for a while only parts of them are seen – long reptilian limbs that unfurl through doors and keep unfurling, to a needle-like point.

They shape-shift, clatter their jaws apart like Pac-Man on speed, and do this one thing in formation – a combo cartwheel manoeuvre, rolling en masse towards their prey – that comes out of nowhere. There sometimes seems no limit to their eccentricities. But because we don’t understand what they are, the film has no stakes except running away from them.

Brewer also neglects the mightiest special effects at his disposal, which are Cage’s face, voice and hands. Banner moments for the star’s highlight reel are in short supply: a few stray gestures of impatience, at most. Arcadian feels like a favour he’s doing for the guys who wanted to make it, rather than a favour to himself, or to us.

In cinemas from June 14