Producers: David Wulf, Braxton Pope, Nicolas Cage, Mike Nilon, Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier   Director: Ben Brewer   Screenplay: Mike Nilon   Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jaeden Martell, Maxwell Jenkins, Sadie Soverall, Samantha Coughlan, Joe Dixon and Joel Gillman   Distributor: RLJE Films

Grade: C+

The peacefully bucolic vibe suggested by the title proves ironic in “Arcadian,” which is yet another in a glut of films about struggling to survive in the aftermath of the apocalypse.  As far as the genre goes, Ben Brewer’s movie, which reunites him with Nicolas Cage after their 2016 crime drama “The Trust,” isn’t bad, though Mike Nilon’s screenplay follows the template of “A Quiet Place” rather too slavishly.

Cage is Paul, who’s introduced—sort of—as a man frantically running through a ravaged urban landscape, the air filled with smoke, debris and the sound of gunfire, to reach his two infant sons.  (The “sort of” is justified because he’s shot from the back via cinematographer Frank Mobilio’s not-very-steady-cam, so a younger double might well have been involved.) 

An abrupt cut with a caption indicating that fifteen years have passed finds Paul living in an isolated rustic house with the now-teenage boys Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins).  They follow a routine Paul rigidly maintains.  During the day they venture out to scavenge for supplies (the rusting shipwrecks on the nearby coast perhaps explain their source of gasoline, but where does Paul get those cigars he enjoys in the evenings?), but at sunset they must be inside, bolting every possible entrance before sitting down to dinner (they don’t lack for food, though they don’t appear to engage in farming or raising livestock). 

Why such security?  Because the woods and caves are filled with ravenous creatures that try to pound their way inside every night.  (They don’t appear to have a taste for the livestock on nearby farms, craving human flesh.)  What are they–alien invaders, mutated humans that resulted from whatever catastrophe caused the apocalypse, a suddenly evolved or accidentally created biological species?  Perhaps.

The uncertainty is characteristic of Mike Nilon’s screenplay, which isn’t much interested in world-building or back story.  (We’re told nothing, for instance, of Paul’s earlier life, and no mention of his presumably dead wife.)

The film compensates to some extent for that by constructing a convincing family dynamic.  Cage, in one of his more restrained recent performances, shows Paul’s unyielding concern for his sons and determination to keep them safe. Martell and Jenkins, meanwhile, make convincing brothers of differing temperament who can easily burst into bickering, much to their father’s annoyance.  (“Are we men?” he’ll demand of them at such instances.)  

Joseph is the more quiet, introspective and studious of the two, but also more productive.  He forages for supplies as Paul directs, but also practices chess problems and applies himself to working on their old truck.  He also constructs a cage to trap one of the creatures—a scheme that results in some of the film’s most chillingly effective sequences when it succeeds.

Thomas, by contrast, is obsessed with the world beyond the family compound, particular the heavily fortified Rose farm, boasting a large flock of sheep.  The boy’s not interested in the animals, though: he’s infatuated with young Charlotte (Sadie Soverall), whose parents (Samantha Coughlan and Joe Dixon) accept Thomas’ offer of help with the chores, although, having a substantial contingent of hands, they don’t really need it.  There’s a sweetness to the connection he makes with Sadie, showing the persistence of human innocence even in the most extreme situations.  No wonder Thomas runs off to the Rose place virtually every day while Joseph does the grunt work of scavenging. 

That practice of his leads to the crisis the story arc requires.  Running home one day when he was supposed to be helping his brother, he falls into a trench as the sun falls.  Paul goes out to find him, and the two must spend the night outside together, fending off the creatures; Paul is seriously injured in the process.  The boys seek help from the Roses, but they respond by inviting only Thomas to remain with them, leaving Joseph to tend to his father on his own and his brother to get around his hosts’ refusal to share their stock of medicine (once again, the nature and source of which goes unexplained). 

Coincidentally, the creatures have, presumably like the prehistoric simians of “2001,” suddenly gained the ability to strategize by burrowing under the human homes and breaking through the floors to gain access to their prey.  The outcome is catastrophic, even though Paul, who’s been out of action for some time, after instructing his boys merely to “Fight!” rouses himself to join them in the final battle.  The ending may have you scratching your heads wondering whether the infestation of monsters was a purely local phenomenon or a global one.

“Arcadian” may be frustratingly opaque as a dystopian parable, but it works better as a domestic drama and a coming-of-age story, especially because the young stars are so strong.  Filmed in Ireland, it boasts solid technical work from production designer Shane McEnroe, costumer Gwen Jeffares Hourie and Mobilio, though the latter and editor Kristi Shimek rather muff some of the action sequences—the trench episode, another in which Thomas is being held captive in the Rose bunkhouse, and even the prolonged final confrontations with the creatures.  All come across as visually messy.  And the score by Kristin Gundred and Josh Martin is one of those droning, synthesizer-sounding efforts that comes across like those in a hundred other horror movies.     

But the monsters are imaginatively designed if a mite familiar-looking, and are expertly realized by the effects team. Brewer shows skill in revealing them over time, from the most shadowy glimpses at the start to increasingly detailed appearances by the end.  Again, that’s hardly a new technique, but he uses it well.  That, and his success with the cast, bode well for his future work. 

In all, a movie that might find greater favor with those interested more in the family than the creatures they’re pitted against.