For the first 15-20 minutes of the new Netflix Original movie ARQ, it felt like a riff on the excellent (and crippled by its release title of Edge of Tomorrow) Live Die Repeat, but like it should've been a short film, not a 90-minute feature. But then it started adding layers and twists which made it a tense and unpredictable treat.The trailer below does well to not spoil the fun, but has a few too many shots which out-of-context may not spoilers, but rather than risk it, I'll synopsize as little as possible. You'll have to trust me on this one.
Robbie Amell (the original Firestorm on The Flash TV show; Steve of Arrow's cousin, though they look like brothers) wakes up with a startle. It's 6:16 AM according to the clock. He looks over on the bed and caresses the face of a woman (Rachael Taylor, Trish from Jessica Jones). Suddenly, men in gas masks burst in and drag him away. He breaks free, but tumbles down the stairs, hitting his head with a THUD and...
He wakes up. Men break in. He's reliving the day again. They drag him down to the basement where a massive metal cylinder is rotating like a lathe - this being the titular ARQ. Eventually he gets killed again. And again. Annnnnnnnnd AGAIN!
While this rapidly seems like a direct, much smaller-scale remake of Live Die Repeat, it makes the savvy decision to get Taylor in on the "I can remember the last time loop" fun as her backstory comes into play. One person being able to play Groundhog Day and redo things over and over and over until you get it right has been done before, but not when there is a second player with their own agenda who know that you know and is able to compensate. And that's not where it ends.
Once the reveal occurs, ARQ becomes more than just a rehash of the aforementioned movies because of the unknown factors that not being the only one remembering what happened causes. While the ultimate end of the movie is sort of necessarily by the movie's premise a foregone conclusion, I had no idea how it was going to resolve because eventually there are too many variables and that's what makes the movie ARQ hum like its machine.
Written and directed by Tony Elliot, who has been a story editor and writer on the wonderful Orphan Black, it makes the most of its low-budget bottle episode trappings and doesn't resort to cheats to keep the tensions taut. The doling out of info about the world outside that house avoids Basil Exposition Syndrome though the milieu isn't particularly innovative. (Dystopian wasteland with rebels and all-powerful corporation has been done to death.) The performances are very good and the pulsing electronic score reinforces the mood.
Movies like ARQ are too small for theaters and the usual home for such fare, SyFy, would be inappropriate due to commercial breaks wrecking the flow of escalating stakes.Thanks to Netflix for tossing a far better movie than Talullah onto the pile of content we're paying for.
Score: 8/10. Watch it.