ARQ – Review (** 1/2)

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An intriguing if decidedly uneven debut from writer-director Tony Elliott (Orphan Black), ARQ may never really graduate above its low-rent construction and inconsistent script, but it should enjoy a comfortable life on Netflix’s library as rainy day viewing for the foreseeable future.

Renton (Robbie Amell) wakes up in bed next to his former lover Hannah (Rachael Taylor) just moments before his door is broken down by armed assailants, and in his escape attempt, Renton is killed. However, his death causes him to wake up in bed once again, seemingly trapped in a time loop as a result of an invention he created. Together with Hannah, he must attempt to figure out the key to stopping the time loop while exiting with their lives in tact.

Of the Groundhog Day-inspired time travel thrillers to emerge in recent years – namely Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow – ARQ is most certainly the weakest, but by way of its scanter budget and cut-price cast and crew it also invites very different expectations.

It is certainly an ambitious undertaking when considering its $2 million price tag and 19-day shooting schedule, though it must also be said that the seat-of-the-pants production is somewhat reflected in the breathless script. Characters buy into Renton’s explanation of the time loop far too easily (and consequently change their behaviour on the turn of a heel), and while it’s basically a matter of screenwriting economy, it plays as too contrived for the actors to make it convincing.

The time travel genre’s tendency to tie itself up in knots can so often result in movies either frustratingly discombobulating or thrillingly multi-faceted, and ARQ falls somewhere in-between, amusing with its shrewd commitment to the time loop mechanic, but ultimately not doing much original with it that the aforementioned films didn’t already in better terms.

Production quality is for the most part rock solid, especially within the limitations, even if it does tout a distinct made-for-TV vibe, and the performances rarely rise above being low-budget Stephen Amell and low-budget Alice Eve (sorry, guys, that was probably a bit mean).

Sci-fi nuts will lap it up regardless and the distribution model will help its success ten-fold, though ARQ isn’t quite as satisfying as you want it to be, with hokey writing and a finale genre vets will see coming ten miles off. Not bad for one of those Sundays, though.

** 1/2

ARQ is available now on Netflix


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