“The script goes to great lengths in establishing the dystopia of its choice, and provides enough information therein, that it’s all the more disappointing when it chooses not to elaborate further.”
by Ken Bakely
The movies have long ago decided that the future can only be a terrible place. In Tommy Wirkola’s What Happened to Monday, it is 2073, and Europe has been lumped into an authoritarian superstate referred to only as “the Federation.” Because of severe overpopulation, a strict one-child policy has been instated. If a family has a second child, the kid will be whisked away to a massive compound owned by the Child Allocation Bureau, and cryogenically frozen. This policy is the idea of an acclaimed scientist named Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close), who’s using the success of the initiative to run for office and attain even more power.
Of course, there are still siblings, but they all must live in secret. This is an especially big undertaking for a set of identical septuplets (Noomi Rapace). Assuming the name “Karen Settman,” after their mother who died giving birth, they are each named after a day of the week, and on that day (Sunday on Sunday, Monday on Monday, etc.), they go out into the world as Karen. They have strict rules on sharing information with each other at the end of the day, so that there will be continuity. For thirty years, it’s worked. But then, Monday doesn’t come home. She’s vanished without a trace. It turns out that the feds are onto the sisters, and they see their existence as a massive security hazard. Who ratted them out? What will they do now? The answers are unclear at first, and it’ll take their shared wits and resources to outrun the law and avoid the CAB’s perilous clutches.
Describing the plot of What Happened to Monday feels like a copout. The script goes to great lengths in establishing the dystopia of its choice, and provides enough information therein, that it’s all the more disappointing when it chooses not to elaborate further. What begins as a tantalizing and complex ethical play devolves into a mountain of sci-fi and action clichés, where exposition is delivered through newscasts and characters explain things to each other that they would definitely already know. Wirkola is an inspired visual director, creating a futuristic society where the grungy and sleek, the old and new, the digital and analog, live in convincing harmony. But since he shoots the action scenes with a generic approach, and treats the characters with such utilitarian sameness, the weaknesses in the story come shining through.
It’s as if the movie doesn’t care who the seven sisters are. Separating them mostly with their haircuts, there’s a constant sense of confusion over how, for example, to tell Saturday apart from Thursday. Noomi Rapace’s seven-part performance is inspired, and she can act opposite herself in tremendous ways, but her full potential is let down by an underfed screenplay. When she shows off her action skills in the various chases and fights that dot the film, the scenes are shot and cut so manically that the viewer isn’t given a chance to appreciate her work. In one instance, an agent attempting to apprehend the sisters is scalded with boiling water, beaten over the head with the pot, and strangled with an electrical cord. It’s meant to be a satisfying demise for a bad guy, but we’re never given any time to appreciate whichever sibling it is that’s fighting back.
What Happened to Monday becomes an endless compilation of setpieces, with begrudging admittance to what worked before. There are some interesting elements at play with a handful of flashbacks, as we see the Settmans as little girls, as their grandfather (Willem Dafoe) creates the structure that their life will follow. It represents a mindfulness of the challenges that such a scenario would face, and gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the mindsets of the siblings in the present-tense events of the movie. But that’s only a piece of what’s happening here. Later attempts at emotional resonance in a string of heady plot twists are only described, and never felt.
As the big questions asked in the first thirty minutes go unanswered, Wirkola becomes dependent on the strength of Rapace’s performance to cover up the other weaknesses. He’s made a passable action movie here, with a committed lead actress. That’s all well and good, yet it certainly is a step below the lofty intentions of its own setup. The film can’t establish a convincing rhythm in whatever it tries to do, because it always ends up with another attempt to revert to something else. It squanders a fascinating premise, and sidesteps the possibilities implied. But I guess it’s fun when one of the sisters (Tuesday? Wednesday? Casual Friday?) gets to slice off a dead CAB agent’s finger, use it to bypass the fingerprint trigger lock on his machine gun, and subsequently mow down a group of his colleagues coming after her. We’ve all been there.