ARQ, a 2017 Netflix sci-fi feature entertains, but like the three-hour time loop that drives the action, remembering details is a challenge.
Written and directed by Tony Elliot (Orphan Black) ARC uses the time loop plot device, similar to Groundhog Day and Tom Cruise’s The Edge of Tomorrow. The protagonist relives the same events, changing his behavior to create a different outcome. Like The Edge of Tomorrow alien conquest, a different outcome for Renton, ARQ’s protagonist, means living rather than dying.
The Edge of Tomorrow is a Cadillac of a film.
Cruise’s movie sports big name co-stars, elaborate CG nasty aliens and a save-the-world ending. Experiencing the same day thousands of times via a time loop, Cruise’s character begins as a self-serving asshole and ends up as a self-sacrificing, much wiser guy.
With its single dreary setting, dinky CG and flat characters, ARQ is a stripped down 1992 sedan.
ARQ’s time loop story is an economy ride but it gets you there. Rather than fighting aliens, it’s dystopia time! There’s global famine, nasty air quality, and a pitiless dictatorship. However, no teenagers show up to save the world.
The film keeps you invested due to its slick editing and a no frills but smart script.
In a darkened bedroom, Renton (Robbie Amell—The Tomorrow People) wakes next to his lover, Hannah (Rachel Taylor—Jessica Jones). Seconds later, masked men burst in and tie them up. They want Renton’s “scrips” (money). These “Bloc” rebels are fighting “Torus,” a corporation that aims to rule the world. Renton, a scientist in hiding who had worked for Torus, suspects they’re not only after money; it’s Renton’s new invention, the ARQ.
In a world depleted of energy resources and food, the ARQ is a perpetual motion machine.
When someone mentions seeing apples in another room, it has the same effect as shouting, “squirrel” to a pack of golden retrievers. After their apple break, they return to interrogate Renton. When Hannah betrays Renton, revealing the hidden money, Sonny, the oldest of the group, shoots him dead.
Okay then. We’re back in the bedroom. Renton is waking up again.
He remembers dying. He’s not in heaven so what gives? Again, the rebels break in and it’s deja vu. The same scene plays out with different details but Renton dies again. When he wakes, Renton realizes that his perpetual motion machine has another feature: it loops time.
So Renton keeps looping the loop, learning what not to do, trying to change what happens.
But he’s not the only one who learns what’s going on and on. Hannah remembers. Renton wants to save Hannah but is determined to destroy the ARQ. Hannah will help Renton escape but only if he lets the Bloc have the ARQ. Like Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, Hannah believes that she and Renton “don’t amount to a hill of beans” compared to saving the world from Torus.
When Sonny, a Torus spy, becomes aware of the loop, it’s game on.
As the scene kept repeating, the story reminded me of a game. With little backstory on any character and only the thinnest sense of a bond between Renton and Hannah, the pacing takes over. Each loop is a round as the players duck and weave, trying to move ahead in the same space. Character becomes superfluous as the game plays out.
In terms of character, I feel Robbie Amell is miscast as Renton, the cutting-edge scientist.
He’s too young. An older, more experienced actor might have given Renton more shading. Rachel Taylor and the rest of the cast are fine, but the game aspect of this script results in the actors becoming pawns. The only actor I found interesting was Shaun Benson (Channel Zero) who plays Sonny, the bad guy. Whenever Sonny appears, rather than the game, the character aspect dominates. My guess is that Benson is a more experienced actor than the rest of the cast.
Overall, I found ARQ diverting but forgettable.
If you love sci-fi and you’re home, looking for something to watch, you might want to check ARQ out, if only to see the variables of each loop. Who wouldn’t like to redo parts of their own life? When it comes to stories driven by time travel and time looping, play it Sam; play it again and again.
Featured image via ARQ IMDB