Overview: An engineer’s renewable energy experiment causes him and his ex to be caught in a time loop during a home invasion. Netflix; 2016; NR; 88 minutes.
Panic Mode: Tony Elliot’s ARQ begins in a panic, a rush of information, and stakes that never let up during its brief runtime. We’re bombarded with sci-fi jargon: an energy crisis that’s destroyed the world, a civil war between the rebellion group known as the Block and the corporation Torus, and a plot to steal a currency referred to as scrips. Relationship statuses, histories, and names are shuffled out like playing cards for a game we don’t yet know the rules to. And on top of all of this is the titular ARQ itself, a perpetual motion machine that doesn’t generate energy but reuses it by way of a perpetual time loop. And yet for all of this initial complication and rush to establish this future world, there isn’t much that’s unfamiliar about it once the film slows down and we’re able to catch up.
As audience members we’ve been almost conditioned to expect complicated narratives in time travel films, as well as to look for plot holes in what is easily the most intricate of science fiction subgenres. Elliot’s film displays an awareness of both these factors, offering up the guise of complexity in its rush of information, while avoiding a messy narrative by way of its rather straightforward story and singular, adequately shot location. It’s a rather brilliant hook of controlled confusion, but as the minutes tick away and things become more apparent, it’s hard not to wish for a little less control.
Looper: There’s always something a bit tedious about time loop movies. Even some of the stronger films like Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow become a bit trying by the third trip around. Unless comedy is the central focus, like Groundhog Day, there’s a relief when the film finally breaks out of its entrapments and takes us to some new and unexplored area. ARQ faces the same struggle in its self-seriousness, but it’s lessened by energetic performances by leads Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor who tackle the film with enthusiasm of actors staring in a Tom Cruise-led summer blockbuster while being confined to a space that looks every bit of its minuscule budget. Unfortunately, the same energy can’t be found in the four home invaders, the villains of the film, who are uncharismatic and unthreatening to the point that the film stalls whenever they’re on screen. Though they first enter the film with breathing masks and protective gear worthy of post-apocalyptic invaders, all the tension that they provide quickly evaporates once those masks are removed. While ARQ provides some rather clever twists of loyalty that are heightened by the time loop and resulting questions of who remembers what, the tension never lasts after the initial reveal because the performances of the invaders are just so uninspired it’s a bear to have to encounter them again, and again, and again.
Overall: ARQ is admirable in its aim to create a tightly bound time travel thriller on a low-budget, but it doesn’t leave anything to think about or question afterwards. The events simply play out largely in the way we expect them too, while a bigger, more interesting narrative is referenced in the background, leading us to wish these two stories would merge and become something that resonates. Even when messy and self-indulgent it’s the aftermath that makes time travel films worth talking about and revisiting again and again. ARQ is simply a film that exists within the tight boundaries created by Elliot, its character arcs and plot developments conveniently mapped out to get from point A to B to A to B again with little inclination towards thematic engagement or wonder to make this a film worth remembering.
Featured Image: Netflix