Ignore the promotional images because Tom Large’s latest film is once again being sold as a sci-fi thriller, a tech-heavy one, and once again it’s nothing of the sort. There are a couple or three nice FX shots intended to set the scene, but the rest of it is basically maybe half a dozen interminably lengthy scenes. The only light in the entire film is the big bright neon signposting the shock revelation at the end – somewhere we’ve been before, many many times. Arcadia makes THX 1138 look breakneck, Soylent Green look cheerful, and 1984 look positively Disneyesque.
So, the plot. It’s the near-ish future, and with the population suffering from an apparent terminal cocktail of diseases that has brought the age expectancy down below forty, Charlie (Coro’s Marc Baylis) is signed up for Guardian duties, as part of a programme that promises to see him and his family admitted into Arcadia, the tall building wherein the wealthy and the auspicious are given ‘the cure’ and can live segregated from the infected masses outside. Except Charlie’s latest assignment, after six years of accruing points and losing a wife, leads to him discovering the real reason nobody lives past the age of 39 these days. You can probably guess why. Charlie is tasked with babysitting the one man who has stopped medicating and lived to try and tell his tale (Baker), but Charlie’s handler (Kotabe) and the prime minister (Wright) are about to make things very complicated.
With so much of the film taken up by reacting to off-stage stimuli, it’s little wonder the performances are as subdued – and for subdued read stilted – as they are, with much of the actors’ work lacking in conviction. But Large’s direction appears to fetishise the muted quality; so much so that the photography is as dull as the acting, the washed out greyscale giving Arcadia the sheen of a VHS tape that’s been left out in changeable weather for a few too many weeks.
The real problem, however, is that no care is taken to make us care about anyone or anything that happens. There are just a number of vaguely motivated people running through a number of would-be interesting situations, and while Arcadia seems to want to address a variety of issues, the cost of medicine, for example, most of the filmmaking decisions – such as having a totalitarian Tony Blair as Prime Minister – only undermine anything it might have to say. Tedious and depressing.
ARCADIA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TOM LARGE / SCREENPLAY: TOM LARGE / STARRING: MARC BAYLIS, RUFUS WRIGHT, AKIE KOTABE, JOSEPH BAKER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW