ARQ Is Not The Stranger Things Replacement You've Been Looking For

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
What would Groundhog Day be like if it wasn't funny? What if Bill Murray were replaced with a CW star and the entire thing was set in the kind of grim dystopia Jennifer Lawrence would feel right at home in? It would be ARQ, an original Netflix movie premiering September 16 — and it probably shouldn't go on your binge-watch list

Watching a bad movie is never an enjoyable experience (with the exception of one that's so bad it's good). But there's something particularly excruciating about watching a bad movie that keeps repeating the same thing every 10 minutes.

In ARQ's first loop, Renton (played by Robbie Amell) wakes up in bed next to his kind-of-ex Hannah (Rachael Taylor) as three masked men break down their door, tie them up, and demand all his "scrips." (It should be noted that if you were playing a drinking game that mandated a shot for every time someone in this movie said "scrips," you would die of alcohol poisoning.) We're never told what they are, though it's implied they're currency in this reality. But really, they could be travel passes or those packets from Spy Kids that turn into Happy Meals. When Renton dies, he wakes up in bed again just before the break-in and the scenario repeats and repeats, with Renton learning a little more every time. Hannah and the perps don't realize they're in Minority Report until Hannah accidentally shoots Renton, starting a loop where they both know they're doing the time warp again.

Amell is most well-known for his stint on The CW's The Flash and last year's surprisingly good teen comedy, The DUFF. You can still see glimpses of the easy charm he showed off in that flick, but here, he's playing an engineer hiding an energy generator from the corrupt war corporation Torus, his previous employer. Not much room for charm in this role. Plus, any emotion is sucked dry by Taylor's stilted performance.

We're a couple of iPhone updates away from total societal collapse.

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We come to realize over the course of the many loops that Hannah was Renton's girlfriend until he left her at the evil corporation, where she was then tortured. Her pain is never really explored beyond her anger at Renton for leaving her (and one explosion of rage that would have landed if the characters or viewers were given more than two seconds to digest it). Hannah supports Bloc, the rebel group challenging Torus. Renton thinks it's a lost cause. The movie provides neither the information nor the motivation for the audience to figure out who's right.

Details about the world around the couple were scattered and never provided real insight into which flavor of dystopia Renton and Hannah are living in. The home invaders insist "no one has apples anymore," then joyfully eat Renton's perfectly fresh McIntosh. Does he have some kind of bunker orchard? He does have plants nurtured with IVs for no apparent reason other than the fact it looks kind of cool in a sci-fi way. We know the rebel leader is called "pope" and that both sides get their news from holograms, meaning we're a couple of iPhone updates away from total societal collapse.

We also know the air isn't great to breathe, because the intrepid duo cough as they share a mask when they finally venture outside. They also throw on blankets to protect themselves from the, well, we're never really sure what they're hiding from. The sun? The cold? The Eye of Sauron? An ominously named virus is dropped into the conversation once, but there doesn't seem to be any overarching terror from whatever lies outside their apartment.

The resolution of the film is both rushed and wholly unsatisfying. A discovery is made that should feel massive if the characters had been developed enough to inspire empathy. Big decisions are made that are totally at odds with the last argument the protagonist made, which left me wondering when, during all the shootouts and scheming, he managed to make time for soul-searching.

Feeling uninspired (and still searching for a Stranger Things replacement), I did learn an important lesson from ARQ. Blood, like water, contains electricity. So (spoiler) stepping in a puddle of blood connected to a live wire can be fatal. Or something.
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