Tommy Wirkola’s What Happened to Monday starts out with a lot of promise, which makes its eventual fall is even more frustrating. The movie has a rich, interesting concept that could deal with identity and family, but rather than go for human interactions, the film always runs to the safety of gory violence and dystopian clichés to the point where a unique premise eventually becomes a painfully predictable action flick. Despite strong performances from Noomi Rapace, What Happened to Monday never lives up to its promising start, and by the end it becomes an utter chore.
Set in a future where overpopulation has ravaged the Earth, politician Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) has put a law into place limiting families to one child per household. Any additional children will be put into cryosleep until the Earth is ready for more inhabitants. Terrence Settman’s (Willem Dafoe) daughter didn’t obey this law, and due to genetically-modified foods, has identical septuplets in secret. Terrence raises the girls in secret, naming each one after a day of the week. Thirty years later, the sisters (all played by Rapace) have a system where every day corresponding with their name, they get to go out under the identity of Karen Settman (named after their mother). When Monday disappears, the sisters realize that they’re under siege and their lifelong secret has endangered all their lives.
The film has an incredibly strong first act where Wirkola does some solid relationship building and showing how the sisters create a livelihood for themselves. The most affecting scene is when Terrence (Dafoe giving a warm and endearing performance) discovers that Thursday has suffered a permanent injury, so he must inflict that injury on the other six children in order to protect their secret. It’s a heavy, difficult scene where the cold pragmatism of their situation runs up against the protection a father figure needs to provide.
Unfortunately, in the film’s haste to get to the mystery surrounding Monday, it loses its most valuable thread. The strength of the movie comes from how the sisters interact with each other, but we only get one scene of that before they start splitting off and the government’s brutality closes in. Rather than invest in the relationships between the characters and their struggle for individuality when they have to take on a false identity once a week, the movie takes a short cut towards dystopian set pieces.
Wirkola almost seems to take more glee from the violence he inflicts on the characters, and while one could argue that this violence is meant to convey the real stakes these characters face, it all seems fairly cold and calculated. Maybe the dehumanizing of the characters is meant to be the point—that because the sisters have lost a piece of their individuality, their suffering is lessened—but more often than not, it feels like a cheap way to get a rise out of the audience instead of doing the real work of character building.
Without strong characters to build upon despite Rapace’s seven distinct performances, there’s no emotional investment and the movie starts trudging down a depressingly predictable path that fluctuates between faceless government baddies fighting the sisters or the sisters on the run to uncover a conspiracy. By the end, we don’t care what happened to Monday or any of her siblings.
What Happened to Monday hits Netflix on Friday.