Dystopian science fiction is a genre that requires full commitment from the director, the actors, and perhaps most importantly, the scriptwriter. Setting up a future in which scientific, medical, or technological advances play a pivotal role demands that those in charge of making the story come to life do their due diligence. Extensive research and thought should be put into the fundamental qualities of the story universe, including those which make it a dystopian one. This is by no means a simple task, and it is why the science fiction genre is one that is full of mediocre, hackneyed films, with only a few gems that stand far above the rest. Netflix, as part of its move to be the dominant force in the production, distribution, and exhibition of TV and film, hoped to add an entry that would rival some of those few beautiful, thought-provoking gems. What Happened to Monday? is their flawed attempt to improve on the genre, and the results, while not terrible, are disappointing.
The film, written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson, and directed by Tommy Wirkola, is set in a future in which overpopulation has wreaked havoc on the planet, leading to a strict one-child policy enforced by the Child Allocation Bureau. When a mother dies while giving birth to identical septuplet sisters, their grandfather, Terrance (Willem Dafoe) hides the children, for fear that they will be taken by the bureau and put into cryosleep. Terrance keeps the children locked away in his apartment, and names each of them after a day of the week. He trains them to only behave as if they are one person named Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace), only leaving the apartment when it is their specific day of the week, and working tirelessly to study the day’s happenings so that they do not make any mistakes while out in the world. This plan continues to work even as the girls grow into adults, and they stay true to their grandfather’s scheme, even after Terrance’s passing. However, when Monday doesn’t return from work one day, her sisters fear the worst, and must conduct a covert investigation into her whereabouts.
Needless to say, What Happened to Monday? has a fantastic premise, as any good dystopian film should. The story is very cleverly set up, with flashbacks to show the sometimes gruelling process of maintaining a singular identity that defined the sisters’ childhood. Willem Dafoe is perfect as the stern but loving grandfather, and Noomi Rapace has proven herself to be a formidable heroine in films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its sequels, as well as Prometheus (2012), and though her ability to perform seven distinct characters is a bit shaky at times, she is well-cast for the part. But while the initial setup and performances are generally commendable, the story evolves into something very different from what was expected.
What starts off as an engrossing science fiction thriller morphs into a derivative action movie that takes no risks and employs every cliche imaginable. Once the plot has been set up, ridiculous, over-the-top gunplay and chase scenes make up the vast majority of the film. Additionally, each of the seven distinct personalities feels as if they were written by a moody teenager, or a die hard fan of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. There is the punk sister, the quiet, computer-hacker sister, the promiscuous sister, the level-headed sister, and so on. The whole thing is so painfully structured, with little room for interpretation or ambiguity, and the these annoying characterisations naturally limit Noomi Rapace’s performance.
After what feels like a very promising start, What Happened to Monday? consists of one groan-inducing scene after another. It is photographed and choreographed well; there is nothing wrong with the effects. All the technical aspects of the film meet the standards for what a science fiction thriller SHOULD look like, but it never goes any farther than that. It almost feels as if the entire project was conceived after someone drunkenly bet Noomi Rapace that she couldn’t portray seven different characters in the same film. And even though it had the potential to be so much more, there is nothing deep or thought-provoking about its story. Though many will finish What Happened to Monday? feeling thoroughly entertained, it will almost certainly require viewers to lower their expectations and simply turn their brains off for two hours.
Rating: ★★ out of 5
What Happened to Monday? is available to stream on Netflix.