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Arq

Year: 2016
Production Co: Lost City
Studio: Netflix
Director: Tony Elliott
Writer: Tony Elliott
Cast: Robbie Amell, Rachael Taylor

If this film had been a big blockbuster release you can imagine all the Groundhog Day / Edge of Tomorrow memes about it now. In fact it's so much like the premise of both those films (particularly the latter) I wondered if that counted against it with anyone who did watch it.

Renton (Robbie Amell) wakes up in bed next to Hannah (Rachael Taylor) looking disoriented and freaked out after a nightmare. A gang of masked men burst into the room, knock him out, drag him downstairs in the unkempt house he's in and tie him to a chair to find out what he knows. Nearby is some sort of machine consisting of a heavy spinning column of metal.

Things go south quickly when he tries to escape and they kill him, whereupon he wakes up in the same bed hours earlier with the same woman. The same three guys burst in to drag him downstairs and it all happens again. Another missed step and he winds up back in bed again.

Renton soon realises what's going on because of how much he remembers every time he wakes up. Before long Hannah, with whom he seems to share a complicated relationship, starts to remember what's come before as well, and just when they think they have all the time in the world to make good their escape because they'll get another chance with time resetting itself, they realise that one of the masked men is twigging to what's going on as well, severely limiting their options.

The intruders are there to abduct and terrorise Renton and Hannah because it's the dystopian near future (clues like a recurring broadcast on the TV, references to an all powerful corporation and an ongoing war and revolutionary talk among the masked kidnappers) and the spinning column machine is an infinite energy source they apparently want to steal for their war effort against the powers that be.

But what Renton discovers wherever his repeated escape attempts give him time to investigate, tapping feverishly as a keyboard, is that the machine which gives the film its title has suffered some sort of fault. Of course, when you're dealing with perpetual energy in a movie it doesn't just blow the trip switch on the power board, it resets time every couple of hours, Renton and Hannah soon realising how many times they've relived the same desperate struggle in their boarded up house.

Each new do-over also reveals more about the true alliances going on in the house, Hannah playing more of a part in what's happening than Renton realised and throwing emotional turmoil and betrayal into the mix as well.

With a low budget, ruined future-type production design and only a handful of interior locations Arq is nothing really special to look at. The appeal is all there in the script – writer/director Tony Elliot (a writer and producer on the 12 Monkeys TV reboot) does a really good job of stitching the backstory of his world to the action going on, every new attempt at getting away including a few more phrases or talismans that reveal a little bit more about what everyone wants. If you're a fan of well-done time travel ideas in sci-fi you could do a lot worse.

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