Friday, September 16, 2016

ARQ: Netflix Does the Time Warp Again

In the dystopian near-future, a reclusive scientist has no future, just the crummy present, over and over again. Like a more intimate Edge of Tomorrow, Renton keeps living through the same inconvenient home invasion that always depressingly ends with his death. Each time around, he learns applicable lessons, but the constants start to change when one of his guests also becomes aware of the time loop in screenwriter-director Tony Elliott’s Netflix original movie, ARQ (trailer here), which premieres today on the online service.

When Renton walked away from his job at the sinister Torus Company, he took the ARQ with him. He thought he had invented a perpetual energy generator, but it apparently also creates time loops under the right circumstances. The three rebel commandos who break in think they are just after money, but one of them might have a secret agenda, most likely involving the ARQ. Actually, that is four insurgents from “The Block” if you include the one who immediately gets fried by the ARQ’s security grid or five if you count Hannah, the former lover Renton finally reconnected with the night before, who quickly reveals herself to be the mission commander. That doesn’t necessarily mean she and Renton cannot work together when things really get dicey, but there will be trust issues.

There have been a number of time-looping films before, including two adaptations of Richard A. Lupoff’s short story 12:01 PM, but Elliott automatically raises the stakes with the dystopian setting and manages to dramatically up the ante with each iteration. This is another nifty time travel (or what-have-you) thriller that bends the mind and keeps viewers on their toes, without employing any special effects beyond Renton’s many, many deaths. (Technically, there is a late third act attempt at visual shock-and-awe, but it is an unnecessary mistake.)

As Renton and Hannah, Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor are highly engaging co-leads. Although not exactly what you would call emotive, they are pretty convincing getting beat-up, murdered, and driven to distraction by the cosmic absurdity of their situation. The film’s only real weakness comes in the bad guy department. Shaun Benson starts to chew more scenery as the film progresses, but he really should have been much more over-the-top.

Elliott, who has a built-in following from writing Orphan Black comes up with clever twists and call-backs for each go-round. His ending might be divisive but it is arguably quite fitting and maybe even inspiring, if you really stretch for it. Most importantly, Elliott manages to keep it both dark and fun, in a one-darned-thing-after-another kind of way. It is definitely better than many of the B-movies Netflix serves up on its welcome page (as least to your faithful correspondent). Highly recommended for fans of time travel and dystopian science fiction, ARQ streams today (9/16) on Netflix.