Some movies are impressive due to their epic scale. Huge crowd scenes, impressive sets, and wild journeys both flaunt a high budget and allow for a truly immersive film experience. But there's something to be said for the complete opposite — movies that allow themselves to stay small and keep the action contained. This 2016 Netflix original sci-fi movie takes that to an extreme, not only restraining the space it exists in, but also the time.
ARQ is a 2016 sci-fi dystopia starring The Flash and Upload star Robbie Amell as Renton, an engineer who invents a perpetual motion machine in order to create sustainable energy in a post-apocalyptic future. The movie opens with a home invasion by three gas-masked men, who capture and restrain Renton and his former lover Hannah. In the struggle, Renton breaks his neck... and then wakes up in his bed, hours earlier.
It's then revealed one of the invaders touched the ARQ, which is so powerful it created a feedback loop inside the house. At first, just Renton is aware of the events and is met with disbelief from Hannah, but after a few loops her memory starts to carry over as well. Together, they have to work together to fight off the invaders, escape the time loop, and save the ARQ, which could just be humanity's last hope.
The low-budget aspect of this movie isn't too obvious, as the entire film takes place in a single house. The few special effects are impressive, and the worldbuilding sly enough it doesn't feel forced. For example, the temptation of apparently extinct apples keeps the intruders distracted while Renton and Hannah plan, and the use of oxygen masks throughout the film seems like a haunting climate change allegory.
Time loop movies have a rulebook of their own, and ARQ follows this to a T. As more and more characters become aware of the repeating cycles, the action gets more and more action packed, including cyanide gas, betrayal, hidden spies, and more timey-wimey shenanigans.
Just as other claustrophobic movies are impressive due to this restrained space, ARQ is impressive due to its time loop. While Renton and Hannah wake up in the same situation over and over, it never feels drab and repetitive. Every cycle brings a new attempt and a new discovery, whether its Renton discovering something about his predicament or the audience discovering more about the crumbling society of the film's setting.
ARQ is now streaming on Netflix in the U.S.