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The Most Underappreciated Dark Sci-Fi Films On Netflix Right Now

At times, 2020 has seemed to be veering headlong into the kind of dystopian sci-fi future that the movies have always warned us about. The world will inevitably calm down at some point, and recent events seem to be pushing society as a whole toward greater degrees of understanding, empathy, and cooperation. Having said that, when the world starts getting weird, that's when many of us seem to want to dive right into one of the many dark, dangerous future visions that Hollywood keeps offering up, because human beings are, well, kind of odd.

We here at Looper are no different, so we've taken it upon ourselves to peruse that megalithic purveyor of online entertainment Netflix to find the best dark sci-fi movies currently available for streaming. Whether you want a mind-bending thriller, a harrowing account of one family's journey after the apocalypse, a zombie flick with more brains than most, or just a whole bunch of Noomi Rapaces, we've got you covered. Here are the most underappreciated dark sci-fi films on Netflix right now.

ARQ is a twisty, time-loop thriller that will keep you guessing

ARQ is a Netflix original, and while it's been hanging out on the streamer since 2016, it remains criminally underseen. It stars Robbie Amell (who recently made a sci-fi splash on the streamer with the original flick Code 8) as Renton, an engineer who has invented a perpetual motion device that he calls — you guessed it — the ARQ. His device, however, doesn't do exactly what he thinks it does. 

Renton wakes up alongside his ex-girlfriend Hannah (Jessica Jones actress Rachael Taylor) right before a trio of armed men break into his room in an apparent home invasion. Almost immediately, Renton is killed, breaking his neck in his escape attempt. Then, he wakes up in bed next to Hannah again. He can still recall what just happened, so this time, he expects the intruders ... but it still ends badly. Fortunately (or perhaps not), the sequence of events begins again after Renton's death, allowing him to try to puzzle a way out of his predicament. This is thanks to the ARQ — which isn't so much a perpetual motion device as it is a localized time-loop generator.

Our hero's situation grows increasingly complicated when other parties involved in the scenario — first Hannah, then the intruders — start recalling the previous iterations. It turns out that the situation is a great deal more complicated than any of them think.

Into the Forest is a harrowing post-apocalyptic meditation on family

The Canadian indie drama Into the Forest opens with a family struggling to maintain a semblance of a normal life in the face of ... something – we're never told exactly what. The power has been out in their small town for some time, and while the residents appear to be attempting to go on with business as usual, it's implied that there's some kind of ongoing technological collapse occurring throughout the entire world. This point is never explained, nor is an explanation really required. The movie's main focus is on sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), and how they navigate this world after their only protector, their father Robert (Callum Keith Rennie), is killed in an accident.

Of course, there are other bit players in this drama, such as a boy named Eli (Max Minghella) on whom Nell has a crush, and a local store owner (Michael Eklund), who may have nefarious intentions. But in centering the drama on the two sisters, writer-director Patricia Rozema (who would go on to direct episodes of the acclaimed series Mozart in the Jungle and Anne with an E) crafts an intense, claustrophobic tale that highlights the formidable talents of its two stars.

What Happened to Monday? is the most bonkers movie nobody has seen

If you've ever yearned for an answer to the question, "How many Noomis would a Noomi Rapace Rapace if a Noomi Rapace could Rapace Noomis?" then boy, have we got a movie for you. It's titled What Happened to Monday? – and no, its plot doesn't involve everyone waking to find that a week is now inexplicably comprised of only six days.

What Happened to Monday? is set in a dystopian future in which overpopulation has led the government to regulate childbirth: Only one child per family is allowed, which is a problem for Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe). His daughter dies giving birth to identical septuplets, and as they grow, Terrence devises a unique solution to keep all but one of them from being put into cryosleep, which is (ostensibly) the fate that awaits "extra" children. He has all seven sisters — each one named for a day of the week — share one identity, and each of them only venture out into the world on the days they're named for. Trouble arises when Monday — wait for it — goes missing.

The flick was directed by Tommy Wirkola, who's responsible for such gonzo horror flicks as Dead Snow and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, so it should come as no surprise that What Happened to Monday? quickly goes off the rails in some pretty delightful ways. Its big bads, agents of the "Child Allocation Bureau," are portrayed by Glenn Close (yes, really) and Marwan Kenzari, who would later display his knack for cartoonish villainy for a much wider audience as Jafar in the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin. But the star of this show is Rapace, who must have set a record for the most characters portrayed by one actor in a conventional, single-narrative movie. 

The Girl with All the Gifts is a zombie flick with a lot on its mind

Stop us if you've heard this one: In the near future, a parasitic fungus causes those infected by it to turn into mindless, murderous undead creatures with a taste for human flesh. The little-seen thriller The Girl with All the Gifts takes this familiar set-up, and promptly turns it on its head with one brilliant tweak: the existence of a small group of human-zombie hybrids, all of them small children, who retain their smarts — and who may be humanity's only hope for a vaccine.

The film focuses on a band of soldiers in the U.K. that has stewardship of these children, and a scientist (Glenn Close again, oddly enough) who's studying them. When their base is overrun by zombies, they must hit the road, taking one hybrid child — an exceptionally smart girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua) — with them. Complicating their efforts to find safety is a ticking clock element: a massive pod of spores, located smack in the middle of London, which could spell the end of humanity if it bursts.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a tense, smart film that's just as likely to have you ruminating on important issues facing society as it is to have you jumping out of your seat in terror. It also puts a shockingly fresh spin on the zombie genre, and is strongly acted, deftly directed by Colm McCarthy (Black Mirror), and critically acclaimed. If it's not on your watch list, it should be.