ARQ (2016) Review
Director(s): Tony Elliott
Writer(s): Tony Elliott
Cast: Robbie Amell, Rachael Taylor, Shaun Benson, Gray Powell, Jacob Neayem, Adam Butcher
Plot: The engineer Renton (Robbie Amell) finds himself trapped in an endless time loop that begins with him waking up in a home invasion and ending with him dying.
Review: A science fiction film set in a dystopian world – which the viewer sees for less than three seconds –, Tony Elliott’s feature film debut is a decent timey wobbly entry with shades of Groundhog Day (1993) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), except without the charm of the former and the action spectacle of the latter. The aforementioned plays a large role in how ARQ is structured; robotic, grey, and without the kind of action that most viewers tend to feed off. While that sounds like a flaw in the film, Elliott works around it – the indie budget constraints – in innovative ways that manages to rival the numerous dilemmas Tom Cruise’s character faces in EoT.
Crafted as a contained thriller, ARQ uses its single setting – a dilapidated home turned safe house – exceptionally. Remember, the film doesn’t have the budget EoT had for each time loop that Renton faces, with only the house and its rooms. To that end, Elliott uses what little tools he has to full effect, as Renton functions and adapts to each quickly escalating new loop adequately, with each ‘refresh’ serving to extend the backstory on the characters and world they inhabit. Unfortunately, nothing much could be done for the somewhat stilted performances in the film, but ARQ’s theme of repetition that Elliot maintains right until the end plays into this facet of the filmmaking, so the performances of Robbie Amell, Rachael Taylor – playing Hannah, Renton’s ex-girlfriend –, and the three home invaders can’t be faulted.
As the film progresses, constantly complicating the situation for Renton in an entertaining – for us – and irritating – for him – way, ARQ’s narrative logic begins to crack under the pressure, creating questions in its wake. Though the questions have more to do with holes in the film’s external logic and nothing to do with the actions of the characters, each of whom are written in a realistic manner befitting the situation they’re in, these inconsistencies will nag at the viewer, with some most likely – and inaccurately – yelling “Plot hole!” if a character acts or does something they don’t agree. But luckily, the 88-minute film is paced well, moving briskly from start to end without actual hiccups, with the screenplay being entertaining enough to sustain a viewing (or more).