Movie Review: What Happened to Monday?
Netflix’s latest original is a light sci-fi flick that has enough energy to overcome its flaws.
Netflix has been going gangbusters with its original content of late, especially in the science fiction department. Their latest offering, from director Tommy Wirkola, is a dystopian drama that evokes elements from Bladerunner, but never quite rises to the insight of that genre classic.
Starring Noomi Rapace, Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close, What Happened to Monday? pays lip service to some heavy issues while remaining largely dedicated to stylish action and glossy visuals. It is an entertaining flick despite some stumbles. I was entertained throughout but walked away wishing it had been more than a surface level examination of sci-fi topics.
What Happened to Monday? (2017)
The population explosion coupled with catastrophic climate change has pushed the human race to the brink. Europe adopts a one child policy and constructs an omnipresent police state to enforce it. After his daughter dies in childbirth delivering seven identical baby girls, a grandfather devises a plan to keep them safe: each daughter will assume a common identity and be allowed out of the house one day of the week.
Now adults, the seven sisters must hide in plain sight by sacrificing their individuality and living the same identity. When the eldest sister, Monday, fails to come home one day, the remaining sisters must solve the mystery of her disappearance before the authorities find her.
Director Tommy Wirkola is mostly known for slick and campy films such as Dead Snow, Kill Buljo, and Hansel and Gretel. While What Happened to Monday? is probably his most substantive film, you can see the DNA of its director throughout the piece. This film touches upon issues such as population growth, climate change, genetic modification, and the modern surveillance state, but these are mostly touchstones to tell an action packed mystery thriller.
One example is that it is mentioned that GMOs were initially used to overcome persistent drought, but became a secondary crisis because they caused a rise in multiple births. Instead of exploring this intriguing angle, it’s simply a buzzword plot device to explain why there are seven sisters and why so many people affected by the one child policy.
Another issue I had with the film was that it wears its inspirations a touch too flagrantly. This film is obviously inspired visually and thematically by Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, though it does borrow elements from other dystopian mainstays such as 1984. The setting of What Happened to Monday is essentially the same city as Bladerunner, just sunnier. You see the same style of billboards and architecture, and you even have the ever present rain.
In many ways this film is an inversion of Bladerunner. Instead of constant night and shadows, this film sticks to daylight and sun. Instead of focusing on the agent hunting the illicit replicants, you get the perspective of the illicit siblings who are trying to avoid the agents of the government. The comparisons to Scott’s iconic film tend to make the shortcomings of Wirkola’s vision all the more apparent.
The performances in this movie are a mixed bag. Noomi Rapace is excellent when it comes to the physical demands of her roles, but stumbles over the dialogue in places. No doubt some of this is due to the script and direction, since quite often the sisters are left to express their unique personalities by blurting out stereotypical lines. Yes, the tough one is tough, the sexy one is sexy and the smart one is smart. We get it. Luckily the film relies more heavily on its action that its dialogue, and Rapace is impressive when it comes to making a big action sequence feel visceral and realistic. She conveys so much more through her body language and expressions than her lines, so it ends up not being a big problem.
Glenn Close as the villain is a letdown. She was so good in The Girl with All the Gifts playing essentially the same character – a person doing the right thing in a morally reprehensible way – that its disheartening that she’s just a one note baddie here.
The stand out performances are between Willem Dafoe as the grandfather and the seven little girls who play the young sisters. The flashbacks that show him raising them and the emotional struggle he goes through having to damage them in order to help them survive was powerful. There is also a real feeling of family there, and I was sad that his character never shows up in the lives of the adult sisters, even as a memory or call back. When he’s dropped from the narrative, its like he never existed.
Run Lola Run.
The real meat of the drama is the mystery of Monday’s disappearance and the action filled flight from the police that ensues. The film de-marks the day by name, setting up which sister is going to be important to the action. As they venture into the city, we get a real sense of tension between the sibling who is exposed and alone and the remaining girls who must watch her helplessly through a body camera. It was effective, and may have been able to sustain a noir style detective flick on its own.
The final act of the movie is constant action. Once the sisters are forced out of their warren, you have close calls and nail-biting escapes galore. Wirkola orchestrates these set pieces with style and vigor, and while I would have been happy with more of the detective story, the action is satisfying and well crafted.
What Happened to Monday? is filled with ups and downs, both in the story and in the execution. For every detraction I had, I also found something that I enjoyed. It leans heavily on genres that I am a fan of, so I didn’t mind so much that I had seen similar themes and visuals before. Others may not be as lenient in the borrowing. I also was so impressed with the performances and story of the young sisters and their grandfather that I was willing to overlook some of the cliched elements about the grown sisters. In the end, What Happened to Monday is uneven but entertaining and has just enough substance to allow you to enjoy the style it is selling.