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FILM REVIEW: WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY? Has a Dystopian Future – And Seven Noomi Rapaces

FILM REVIEW: WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY? Has a Dystopian Future – And Seven Noomi Rapaces

In the futuristic thriller What Happened to Monday?, world overpopulation has led to the enforcement of strict one-child laws that have siblings quaking in their boots lest they be captured for cryogenic sleep by the fearsome Child Allocation Bureau.

The movie, released by Netflix this um, Friday, fits comfortably into the pattern of films that the company has been producing and releasing mostly though not always exclusively for its platform (see War Machine, Naked, and Okja). It’s not the old, crappy model of DTV films of the 1990s, but it’s also not a fully compelling movie that needs to be seen in the big screen. Instead, it is a well-made rehash or amalgam of other films and styles, one that will undoubtedly serve its purpose of satisfying the viewer seeking two hours of distraction, without costing Netflix too much to make.

And What Happened to Monday? is actually one of the better ones. The film starts out with a simple premise—septuplet sisters are saved from annihilation by a protective grandfather played by William Dafoe, and grow up living in hiding with one of each of them taking an allotted day to go out into the world and live under a single identity. The siblings are played with her usual dexterity and range by the Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Few actresses come to mind that can literally play seven different characters while playing a single one, and take on the physically demanding parts of this script to boot.

The film is cleverly set up to answer many of the questions that come to mind when you first hear of its premise—how do they know what to say to their acquaintances each day, how do they survive, and what happens if one of them is hurt? And the plot, which at first ambulates between the siblings’ present life in 2073 and the lessons they learned in their upbringing, quickly thickens.

One given Monday, Monday does not return, leading her sisters to embark on a dangerous journey to find out what happened to her. The Bureau, led by a devilishly evil Glenn Close, is apparently on to and after them, hell bent on achieving their extinction lest the truth come out that seven siblings survived for thirty years under the Bureau’s noses.

And so What Happened to Monday? quickly reveals itself for what it really is, a watered down version of movies like The Matrix and all the action, cut em up, shoot em down films that you see in the Cineplex week in and week out. Rapace, of course, has the chops to play both the punchy and the paunchy scenes, the emotional and the afraid. The mystery of what happened to the eldest sister quickly turns into a blood bath with unsubtle clues that point to the truth, and not much stands in the way of the obvious resolution other than the needed body count.

Little will surprise you of the secrets the movie holds within its grip, though the film is at times unforgiving in its graphic and affecting overtones. It takes no prisoners and waits for nobody as the plot moseys on, sometimes stumbling, towards the mostly expected conclusion. Close gives it her usual all, but is given a somewhat wooden character. Dafoe’s turn is equally subdued and unidimensional, though his character provides an important psychological engine for the story’s motivations. It is Rapace, naturally, who steals the show, fighting several baddies at a time with the help of seven lives, er, personas, and sometimes even speaking to or battling herself.

Futuristic movies with dystopian elements—the terrible ways in which humans can devolve into bestiality as resources evaporate into scarcity and our numbers swell into obscenity—can in their best iterations (think, Minority Report, District 9), distill motifs and political ideas about society that will make you think and ponder along with the punches and pummeling. In their worst iterations (think, Elysium) they become clunky versions of C-action flicks with cooler gadgets and clothing, on top of new-sounding names or organizations to boot.

What Happened to Monday?, like a lot of Netflix’s projects, lives comfortably in a happy midpoint between those two extremes. It would be unfair to call it mediocre—it’s far too intriguing from the clumpy opening epilogue through the heart-pounding, spy-thriller like action-packed midriff, into the predictable but satisfactory and even tender conclusion. But it would also be wrong to call it original, despite its lofty premise, given how many times you see the usual suspects. An innocent lobby guard shot through the head, computer files uploading with a suspenseful countdown, an evil speech brought down by a devastating revelation.

If one must call it anything, then, one would need to go with an entertaining action film, with unnerving simplicity within its complex evolutions.

Grade: B

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About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film ‘The Lost Weekend’ is pure coincidence

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