The latest of Netflix’s offerings, What Happened to Monday, is a mighty peculiar film. While the themes of identity in a futuristic setting aren’t something new, the story it weaves within said themes is undeniably interesting, and it has the potential to craft something emotionally deep and complex. Instead, in the hands of director Tommy Wirkola — who gave us two Dead Snow films and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters — it ends up being something much fiercer but more shallow. But does that make it a bad movie?
The original script from Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson focuses on a future where the human population has all but decimated the planet. A high-ranked official known as Cayman (Glenn Close) comes up with the Child Allocation Bureau, a group that quickly grows into extreme power thanks to a new global law: only one child per family. By putting all siblings into cryosleep until the world is eventually a better place, it allows the world to go back to a sense of order. Or does it? Terrance Settman (Willem Dafoe) doesn’t think so; once his daughter dies giving birth to identical septuplets, he decides to raise them to live life pretending to be a singular identity named Karen, after his daughter. Each child is named after the day of the week, and the only day in the week they’re allowed to go outside pretending to be Karen. The sisters (all played by Noomi Rapace) do this for over thirty years. For better or worse, they continue to exist, all of them with different ideals and wants. Their world literally comes crumbling down after Monday doesn’t come back from her day out.
The trailer that’s out there sells the movie as a mystery that the sisters must solve, even if it takes the whole — wait, what? We know the wrench that’s thrown in their lives a few minutes after they realize Monday’s disappeared? Oh. Well then. What Happened to Monday is absolutely prime to stand on two feet and be made primarily as a genuine suspense thriller. The ideas and brief-but-interesting mythos Botkin and Williamson created are fascinating, and as I stated earlier, this could’ve really been a ride down a story that’s gut-wrenching and emotionally exhausting, in a good way. And as I write these words (very much knowing that it’s pointless to talk about the what-ifs of a movie), a thought occurs to me: what if What Happened to Monday actually did just that? Take away Wirkola’s touches and perhaps the foundation is exactly as what I was hoping for.
There’s something I want to make clear: I have nothing against Wirkola or his movies. I’m not the biggest fan of what he’s given us, and how he was given the chance to direct What Happened to Monday is something I’d love to learn one day. If you’re familiar with his three better-known movies, you’re already familiar with his primary interests in whatever he tackles: the shock value, the violence, and the impact, without the substance to back it up. I insist you take a look at his movies first, and then watch this one, or vice versa (and I kinda enjoyed Dead Snow 2). It’s clear that Wirkola is more interested in getting to the boom points of the story rather than fleshing out emotions a bit more. He’s eager with What Happened to Monday; you can feel it all over the movie.
But I asked the question earlier: does all of that make this a bad movie? Not at all. I said Wirkola was mainly interested in the boom of the story…I didn’t say he handled those moments poorly. With every twist, turn, punch, kick and gunshot (sometimes all of that at once), Wirkola shows off a keen eye to the power of the situation for the sisters. When their world comes to a crashing halt, it crashes hard. His direction — his thirst for the impact — paints every inch of whatever size screen you’re watching this on and with each scene of rampage, it blares at you with passion that cannot be denied.
What Happened to Monday is definitely Wirkola’s best film so far, and the foundation Botkin & Williamson lay down is noteworthy for their careers. But there is absolutely no denying this huge and amazing fact: this movie is a showcase for Rapace. She is earth-shatteringly brilliant here. Playing seven different people, to just give each sister a different identity is no easy feat whatsoever. Rapace goes beyond the clothes, the makeup and hairstyles and gives each sister an actual tick, a beat and a glow that doesn’t match the others. How did she do that? There was a moment where Thursday and Friday see one of the sisters and think they know who it is, and at that moment I said to myself, “No, that’s clearly this sister because of the way she’s…” and I stopped myself. Clearly it was shown that way to add an extra twist but Rapace is ahead of the twist, hell she’s ahead of the whole movie. Her performances, and Rapace as a whole, is intoxicating in their draw. I’ve always considered her to be criminally underrated amongst the acting talent in the world. What Happened to Monday is Rapace, on full display, with a glare that says “…And don’t you forget it.”
In another dimension, and with another director, What Happened to Monday could’ve been something completely different that dove deeper into its own world. While what we get is all surface with its content, I’m still thankful that we have Wirkola, at his best, entertaining us for two hours while Rapace reminds us all why she’s one of the best actors working today.