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Every theme ARQ plays with, every unanswered thread it dangles and narrative it explores has been done before and better in contemporary science fiction. Despite this, the film makes for an enjoyable 88 minute experience, despite its many, obvious handicaps. Its minimalist nature is charming, rather than being a detriment and while it would be hard to
recommend this film to all it should suffice as a Netflix pick on a rainy movie day.
Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor star in this time altering romp directed by Orphan Black’s Tony Elliot. Renton (Amell) has created a machine that might have the power to turn back time and he finds this out following the eve his long separated partner Hannah (Taylor) returns as the two are both overpowered and kidnapped by a mysterious gang looking for prescriptions. They’re members of The Bloc, a renegade group of outsiders looking to fight back against an evil conglomerate who-seemingly-have been catalysts to the near dystopia setting they all reside in. The catch is, or, more appropriately, the glitch is that each time Renton dies at the hands of his captors, he awakes again in the same place at the same time with the same scenario about to begin. As he starts to gain insight on his captors and discovers the best way to guarantee his survival, he too, along with Hannah, begin to realize just who and what they’re up against.
Amell and Taylor are both perfectly fine performers (the latter especially if Jessica Jones was an indicator) and both deliver fully committed performances in regards to the physicality. The problem lies not with how they perform their roles, but with how their roles were written. We are as attached to these characters as much as we might grow attached to a video game character. Rather than require their own backstory, they instead service the plot in their actions not the shaky motivations that have been set up for them and then are repeated ad nauseum for the nearly the remainder of the film. Had ARQ had confidence in its viewers to not grow bored in a few moments without action then perhaps the film could have bettered itself with characters who mean more than a plot convenience.
It’s minimalist nature is what gives the film its winsome energy. The die, repeat method at the start is almost too close to the excellent Edge of Tomorrow model to really shine but once it moves past that into great plot divergences the story gains a momentum it hadn’t possessed before. The gray palette and little lighting typically would create mundanity but in this case adds to the overall tone of dread. These are characters living in a world with little left to fight for, be it for food, love or humanity in general, and the sickly tones mirror this. The instances where we see the futuristic tech also is stripped down enough so that the shakier elements (the CGI in general) doesn’t distract but instead, fits into the world at hand. Stylish and crisply staged, there’s enough going on in ARQ visually to not be too caught up in the lazy screenwriting.
But make no mistake, it very much is lazy with massive redundancies (so many arguments about giving Renton’s machine over to The Bloc and perhaps one too many twists render the ultimate climax a bit of a dud.) The momentum gained peters off at the start of the third act when everyone’s motives come into play and the tricks of Renton’s machine continue to build upon themselves.
ARQ is a bit of a surprising choice for TIFF with it’s small scale, science fiction roots, and it’s not an entire waste of time. However, it is forgettable and while it’s not a poor choice of something to watch, it’s hard not to wonder why one wouldn’t just watch The Edge of Tomorrow instead.