The film begins with the violent and painful death of its protagonist, French anthropologist Jean-Charles Pommier. The moment he dies in the emergency room of a Los Angeles city hospital, the physician treating him, Dr. Eileen Flax, becomes possessed with his memories. Dr. Flax relives the last week of Pommier's life until the moment of his death.
After travelling abroad and studying the spiritual beliefs and religious practices of primitive peoples, Pommier finally settles down with his patient wife Niki in Los Angeles to teach at UCLA. His home in the suburbs is vandalized one night by a gang of street punks who travel about in a black van. They are very interested in his house, and he finds that they have built a macabre shrine in his garage to a murderer who recently killed two girls who lived in the house. He studies them because they are an urban nomad culture that is strikingly similar to the ones he has studied.
He begins to observe them, following them around and covertly taking their pictures. He develops the pictures and is puzzled to find that they do not show up in them. He realizes that they are actually the Einwetok, demonic Inuit trickster spirits that take human form, commit acts of violence and mischief, and who are attracted to places of violence and death. Now that they are aware of him, they plan to claim his soul to keep their existence a secret.
Dr. Flax wakes in the bedroom of Pommier's house in the arms of his wife. They try to flee the city to escape the nomads, but the street fills with an army of leather-clad bikers and punks. They storm the house, forcing the women to flee to the attic. One of the nomads, Dancing Mary, breaks into the attic but leaves after scaring them.
Much later, the nomads have left the house, and the ladies leave the attic to find the house a shambles. Upon packing their bags, they flee the city. The next day, as they are driving down a back road, a leather-clad man on a motorcycle rides around them. Flax warns Niki that whatever she sees, she should not stop. As they drive by, they are horrified to see that it is Pommier, now one of the nomads.Pierce Brosnan as Jean Charles Pommier, a French anthropologist
Lesley-Anne Down as Dr. Eileen Flax, an ER doctor
Anna-Maria Monticelli as Veronique "Niki" Pommier
Adam Ant as Number One, a Nomàd
Mary Woronov as Dancing Mary, a Nomad
Nina Foch as Real estate agent
Frances Bay as Bertril, a nun
Frank Doubleday as Razors, a Nomad
Josie Cotton as Silver Rlng, a Nomad
Jeannie Elias as Cassie
Hector Mercado (actor) as Ponytail, a Nomad
The lead role was intended for Gerard Depardieu before going to Brosnan. It was Brosnan's first lead role in a film, and he welcomed the opportunity to play a character so different from Remington Steele.
The film has earned a 13% approval rating on film review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes based on eight reviews. The average rating is 4.3/10.
Jay Scott of The Globe and Mail described Nomads as "a breathlessly unself-conscious film (there is none of the self-congratulatory stylization of Blood Simple), the tone alternates maniacally between scaring the audience and making it giggle. Until the end. And then, via one of the funniest, cleverest and most unexpected conclusions to any movie in history, Nomads comes off the fence it has been sitting on with a bravura jump." Scott credited director John McTiernan, noting that "he has brought to his project a staggeringly resourceful technique. The sharply unpredictable editing, the hypnotic use of slow motion and rack focus (that's when the background and foreground reverse in clarity), the ominous rock music - everything adds up to a debut of singular confidence, full of fun and creepiness." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated it 1.5/4 stars and wrote that even if viewers cared about the characters, the film is too confusing to understand. Variety wrote, "Nomads avoids the more obvious ripped-guts devices in favor of dramatic visual scares. [...] In fact, everything seems to come naturally in a tale that even has the supernatural ring true." Walter Goodman of The New York Times called the Innuat "as menacing as the chorus from West Side Story".
In his memoir, Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that he was so impressed by the film's tense atmosphere made with a low budget that he hired John McTiernan to direct Predator.