ARQ (2016) Review
Director: Tony Elliot
Cast: Robbie Amell, Rachael Taylor, Gray Powell, Jacob Neayem
Netflix Synopsis: In a dystopian future, an engineer trapped in a house and surrounded by a mysterious gang of masked intruders must protect a technology that could deliver unlimited energy and end the wars that have consumed the world
Time Loop Genre: ARQ joins a growing list of movies in the time loop genre. As a futuristic sci-fi thriller, ARQ is drawing some comparisons to 2014’s Live Die Repeat / Edge of Tomorrow. A similarity between ARQ and Live Die Repeat is how repeating the same day is done in a clever way which doesn’t become tedious. Coincidentally, lead actor Robbie Amell (CW’s The Flash) looks like a young Tom Cruise.
Where the comparisons don’t apply is that ARQ is an independent home invasion film made on a very conservative budget. Live Die Repeat is an action heavy blockbuster with a whopping $178 million production budget.
Science of Storytelling: The opening scene begins with Renton (Robbie Amell) and Hannah (Rachael Taylor) waking up and moments later intruders break into their bedroom. ARQ gets into the story right away. There’s no set up of the characters or any background info given about the world. The initial events and the introduction of the time loop is designed to immediately hook viewers into finding out what happens next.
I went into ARQ with basically no knowledge of the plot and that made me appreciate how writer Tony Elliot (Orphan Black) imparts information as the story unfolds. A little bit of information about the world is picked up through dialogue. Some of it is done through visuals.
For example, when Renton wakes up we see that his alarm clock is a holographic display which informs this story must be taking place in a futuristic world and of course, it shows the time which is important information for the viewer to know because of the time loop concept. Another visual clue is that the intruders are wearing air filtering masks which indicates that the outside world might have a toxic or hard-to-breathe atmosphere.
Another strength it that as characters learn more about each other, it alters the choices they make in the next time loop and pushes the story further. As a result, each time loop can have unexpected twist and turns that don’t feel forced. A minor weakness is that soft science fiction movies require a certain suspension of disbelief and there may be some scientifically unexplainable plot holes. However, ARQ is made to entertain, not to be scientifically plausible, and it succeeds on that level.
Bigger Budget is not always Better: In a way, a low budget can be a blessing in disguise. It can force a writer to focus on what’s essential to telling a good story without relying on big action sequences and special effects. Writer Tony Elliot trims off any excess fat ensuring ARQ is a tightly written thriller. The story’s presentation confines the characters to a specific area which builds tension to what’s happening both on the inside and what might be going on in the outside world. The world is never truly fleshed out, it doesn’t need to be for this story to work.
Do good movies always need good characters?: Robbie Amell as Renton and Rachael Taylor (she’s Trish Walker on Netflix’s Jessica Jones) as Hannah are both capable lead actors playing serviceable characters. Renton sees himself as a realist while Hannah believes in a better future for humanity. Even though Hannah is the hopeful one, she is arguably more damaged of the two.
Like I was mentioning earlier about the visual inferences, seeing Renton and Hannah wake up in a bed together might lead one to make assumptions about their relationship which is not exactly as it appears to be.
Renton and Hannah have a complicated backstory which is important to set up their decisions. An extra conversation in the last act could have helped solidify Renton’s character arc and sell the ending a bit better. Mostly, the two lead characters hold their own to keep the story going but I can’t say that they are compelling. They don’t pop off the screen in a memorable way, perhaps they weren’t designed to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because they are never a nuisance or hindrance to enjoying the movie.
To sum it up: ARQ delivers a lean, above average thriller which crosses the home invasion genre with a time loop concept. The lead characters aren’t the most memorable but they service the story which is cleverly written.