Film Review – What Happened to Monday
What Happened to Monday
It’s a surprise that after her breakout turn in the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Noomi Rapace remains a highly underrated actress in modern movies. Her English language films have – frankly – not made the most of her talents. She’s either played the second fiddle, like in Dead Man Down (2013) or The Drop (2014), or has starred in productions that are not as good as she is, such as Prometheus (2012) or Passion (2012). This would explain why her latest turn, in the Netflix’s What Happened to Monday (2017) feels like an audition letting everyone know how much potential she has to offer.
The setting is a future dystopia, where extreme overpopulation has forced authorities to enact a one-child policy. This idea may seem farfetched, but it’s not too distant from reality. For years, China had a one-child policy of its own, which only recently has started to loosen. I’d like to think the Chinese didn’t enforce their law as harshly as those in control do in this sci-fi world. Any family with multiple children will have to give them up to cryogenic storage, put on ice until the population problem is solved.
We’re introduced to a number of themes revolving around the one-child law: environmentalism and social oppression just being a few of them. But in reality, it acts as a stage for Rapace to flex her acting muscles. She plays a set of identical septuplets, trapped in their home in fear of being discovered. The septuplets father (Willem Dafoe), kept them hidden, allowing only one girl to venture out once a week. Hence, he named each of them based on the day they get to go outside: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. Inside they are seven sisters, but to the rest of society they pretend to be the singular Karen Settman.
It’s fun watching Rapace play off of herself. Director Tommy Wirkola and the special effects team do a good job making the sisters exist convincingly. After the initial shock of seeing Noomi Rapace in the same room with six other Noomi Rapaces, the effect became less noticeable as the story progressed. Of course, there are instances where it’s clear that characters are positioned in frame to allow for body doubles, but it worked well enough to not be a distraction.
As characters, each of the sisters inhabits their own traits. Friday is the nebbish, brilliant sister, Tuesday has a drug habit, Wednesday is the athlete, Saturday is the party girl, etc. Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson’s script paints each of them with large brushstrokes, not leaving much room for nuance. Even their hairstyles and wardrobe call attention to their personalities. I suppose this is necessary given that there are seven different people that all look exactly alike – it takes more effort to distinguish them apart. But that’s not to say that Rapace isn’t convincing in the roles. She has the ability to play a character that requires her to be physical or to adhere more to her intellect. She can be hesitant and cautious or aggressive and powerful whenever she needs to be, and here she’s tasked to do that at the exact same time.
The sister’s life of routine comes to a screeching halt when Monday never returns home. Was she captured? Was she killed? This development kicks off an investigation where the sisters try to discover the truth while avoiding being detected themselves. Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if that plan went by smoothly. Wirkola should be given credit for ramping up the fistfights and gunplay for maximum value. He knows how to stage an action set piece. When authorities come to raid the sister’s home, the cinematography (Jose David Montero) and editing (Martin Stoltz) cuts between multiple things going on at the same time, yet none of them feel awkward or out of place. And during a later foot chase, the tone and urgency calls to mind something we would see out of The Matrix (1999).
It’s good that Wirkola makes the action entertaining, because if we step back and examine the plausibility of the story, we come away with a lot of problems. The chief one is the sisters simply remaining in their home once the authorities discover where they are. My guess is that this was done so the production could control the staging for Rapace to work in, but that causes issues narratively. Why don’t the authorities raid the home over and over until they capture the sisters? It’s explained that if the septuplets tried to escape, they would be found immediately. Is it really that difficult to put on a disguise? Do masks not exist in this future? What about reconstructive surgery?
No matter. What Happened to Monday is a sci-fi action thriller that is more interested in the “action thriller” than the “sci-fi.” It’s never boring, but you get a sense that there’s a better movie lurking somewhere underneath the surface – one that wants to dig into the larger implications of a society run in such a way. Alas, that film is not to be found. Instead, it operates as a fugitive-on-the-run tale, with twists and turns that are easily predictable if you’re paying enough attention. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Not everything has to be revolutionary. But for such an engaging premise and employing a talent such a Rapace, this should have been much better than just “ok.”