What Happened to Monday (2017)
Dir.: Tommy Wirkola
What Happened to Monday starts off with a simple but intriguing sci-fi premise: a society in which multiple sibling birth has been outlawed takes drastic measures to stem the tide of overpopulation by capturing all siblings, leaving just one child to progress their family bloodline. When seven sisters are born at the start of this new regime, a father (Willem Dafoe) must raise them in hiding. Each sister (seven different roles for Noomi Rapace) must only go outside on a different day of the week, with each sister being named for the day they can go outside into the world. A screenwriter could do a whole lot with this premise, as it leaves the door wide open for nearly infinite possibilities for the sisters as they each experience the world through different personal eyes. Unfortunately, after the film's first act and the titular disappearance of the sister Monday, the film flounders beneath its own wasted potential.
What starts off as a sci-fi character-driven neo noir mystery ends up succumbing to generic, over-the-top action and gratuitous violence, which could be a welcome departure in a different film. The film's slow world building in the first act betrays the tone that is unleashed upon the film's second act, and as the body count starts to grow higher and characters perish one by one, the viewer quickly realizes that the material given in the script is barebones. The characters in the film are never fully fleshed out enough for the performances to carry it, even if Willem Dafoe and Noomi Rapace work well with the thin material they are given. Because of this, no attachment can be formed from the events that happen onscreen, and the reveals are so easily telegraphed if you've seen any kind of mainstream sci-fi thriller from the '80s onward. It's sad from a writing standpoint, as the film promises a grand mystery and instead flips into a weakly written, often dull action romp.
The acting performances in this film are mostly servicable, with Noomi Rapace shining as seven different women with unique personalities. Willem Dafoe plays against his usual menacing type as a loving, but uncompromising father. Glenn Close plays the main villain of the film, but her performance never rises above sheer moustache-twirling ambience, though she never quite phones it in as hard as a performance like, for example, Jodie Foster's villain in Elysium. Though this is Rapace's show, the rest of the supporting cast of mostly unknown actors never really do a bad job, but they never rise to the occasion to go toe-to-toe with the other actors either. It remains focused on its lead actress, for better and sometimes for worse.
Director Tommy Wirkola took the screenplay of this film from the Blacklist, a collection of in-demand, unfilmed screenplays that circulate around Hollywood until a director confident enough to put it on screen picks it up. Wirkola's visual style does compliment the film's writing well, providing it with a colorful aesthetic that combines films like Blade Runner, Equilibrium, and other urban hard sci-fi to create a sleek cinematic experience. Unfortunately, Wirkola works with a screenplay that feels like it didn't really belong on this blacklist, which could be either due to the difficulty in adapting this particular story, or the choices in editing and camerawork, because I watched Rupert Sanders's Ghost in the Shell earlier this year, and though that film had some problems and similarly was not a perfect adaptation, it at least made you care about the characters and succeeded in creating a unique, effective world. This film never quite gets to that level of investment, as I was frequently bored and disappointed by the events onscreen, despite the obvious directorial skill that was presented.
What Happened to Monday never quite reaches the heights it does in its first few opening scenes, opting to coast on an urban sci-fi setting and some frequent, violent action pieces, rather than delve into the more cerebral elements it implies are present in the story. With exposition that never amounts to much character development, it frequently feels like a slog, but thankfully there are some good performances and a keen visual style that at least makes the film nice to look at. If you don't take much stock in character writing and are fine with just seeing Noomi Rapace fight hundreds of armored men with guns for a couple of hours, you may enjoy this, but for those who, like me, expected more from a film whose premise shows that it could have been so much more, it's a disappointment.