What Happened To Monday
Ah, not too distant dystopia. The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, they are the new genre of dominance. Or, at least, maybe, they used to be? It seems like the big budget offerings from this brand of film-making have tailed off a bit in the last year or so. But not for Netflix, which is doubling down on the concept with this, and an original property to boot, one of the stars of the 2010 Blacklist. Its’s one that seems to go beyond the teenaged and move a bit more fully into the “adult” realm, not unlike last year’s Netflix offering ARQ, while retaining many of the elements that make the aforementioned film a common genre: oppressive government, assault on individuality, awkward romance sub-plots, female villains of questionable morality played by A-List Hollywood veterans…The question then is, is it any good? Or is the director of Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters the sort of guy you shouldn’t expect too much from?
In a future where humanity’s existence is under threat due to rampant over-population, the “Child Allocation Bureau”, under Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) enforces strict “one-child” laws, where siblings are placed in cryogenic storage until Earth’s problems are resolved. When Terrence Settman’s (Willem Dafoe) daughter dies giving birth to identical septuplets, he raises the children himself in secret, naming them after the days of the week, and forcing them to share the same public persona one day at a time. 30 years later, the family (Naomi Rapace) is thrown into crisis when the eldest, Monday, goes missing.
What Happened To Monday already had a difficult battle with me before the film started, because I found its trailer goofy and the overall premise, outlined in a rush of establishing narration early on, a bit hard to swallow. And what followed on was not all that great either, a tonally diverse experience that struggled, like the characters it was depicting, to find an identity of its own and stick with it.
What Happened To Monday wants to be a high concept sci-fi classic: something akin to Children Of Men maybe, just in reverse, an eerie look at a possible future where ethically quandaries presented by overpopulation must be tackled, from both an intensely personal and impersonal viewpoint. Here, the film suffers from the fact that it all seems so tired – as stated, this film has a lot in common with the rest of the genre – and that the high concept needs to be twisted and turned in order to make any sense: siblings are outlawed in this world not because of just bog-standard overpopulation, but because global warming caused food shortages and the GMO equivalents hade the side effect of increasing fertility, leading to lots of septuplet cases, and are you series? You can’t just stick with “overpopulation” as your thing? Indeed, there’s a certain conspiracy strain running throughout What Happened To Monday, that is a tad unpalatable, like the aforementioned swipe at GMO’s and the fact that the evil faceless government is the “European Federation”, like the producers had a Brexit feeling and wanted to make something of it.
The commentary on fascism also seems rather trite. It’s not clear whether What Happened To Monday is trying to say that the evils of a one-child policy – a complex issue treated with all the grace and subtly of a sledgehammer here – inevitably leads to a fascistic government, or if a one-child policy is an inevitable consequence of such a government, or if the one-child stuff is just something that happens to be occurring alongside a fascistic government. Either way, fascism is here, and you don’t need to worry too much as to why and how.
But beyond our glimpses of this particular dystopia, and once things have been established, What Happened To Monday suddenly turns into a Bourne-esque action thriller, replete with gruesome blood splatters, kinetic hand-to-hand gun kata and chase sequences of one against many. This change really does just come out of nowhere, as if halfway through filming they realised that what they had might not be enough to hold the audience’s attention, and suddenly the aforementioned sisters are shooting places up and diving out of windows. While the sudden injection of action is not necessarily a bad thing, it still felt altogether undeserved.
What Happened To Monday probably works best as an identity crisis move, a character study of seven individuals obliged to play a single part. You get the feeling that the film was probably first pitched as just this, as something more akin to Ex_Machina perhaps, than what it has turned out like. There is something genuinely enticing in depicting seven sisters going through the motions of a single role, trying to maintain their own individuality in a world where their very existence is the crime, and not just their individuality itself. Monday is the smart one – maybe a little bit too smart for her own good – then another is an introverted computer expert, another is a flirtatious partygoer, another is a tightly wound fighter, and so on and so forth.
But the film has too many sisters to cover and too many different things it wants to do with them, for this to be a study of a unique family structure. It comes down largely to surface details really, and you can’t help but think that a slightly more conservative approach, with less sisters, may have yielded better results. As it is, it’s actually hard to tell the sisters apart sometimes, in an unintentional way, and any possibility of looking at the dichotomy between a unified public persona and a fractured private one is squandered.
And there’s also a really thrown together romantic angle to the film as well, that only comes into play in the second half of the production, that ties into the industry crisis element of proceedings, but is so rushed that it largely failed to pop.
Of course, What Happened To Monday has another Achilles heel, namely Naomi Rapace. This should be an actors dream role: the chance to play seven inter-connected but different parts in the one production, with the chance to bring something a bit different to each one. And while Rapace isn’t terrible, she still isn’t up to the task here. Too many of the sisters are the exact same in every delivery, facial expression or action: only the hair colours and glassware tends to change, in lieu of the actor leaving her mark. Not that Rapace has a great deal to work with here, as What Happened To Monday isn’t scripted particularly well to begin, with much of the sisters dialogue feeling like it was translated from another language, and the life of Karen Settman, working for a nameless corporation that doesn’t appear to do…anything, nothing to get all that swept up by.
The supporting players, what few of them exist, can only do so much. Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close have been added here just to bring any kind of gravitas, and sure, they can do that, to a point. But Dafoe only has limited flashbacks, and Glenn Close’s villain is sort of Cruella Daville without the camp: a person out to imprison children as part of a political power grab, and playing the hero while doing so. She’s also only in the film for around five minutes, not enough time to make a true impact. She has a certain kind of Hilary Clinton vibe to her as well, and you start to wonder just what kind of politics the writers and director are bringing with them.
What Happened To Monday stutters and stumbles along, until it reaches a finale that takes over two agonising hours to arrive, hoping, perhaps, that two twists in the third act might keep you entranced. But the twists are the sort of thing any reasonable person will see coming from a mile off, and do nothing to enhance an otherwise painfully stretched out narrative.
Tommy Wirkola’s direction is solid, if uninspiring. The deliberately drab surrounds and greying colour palette of Bucharest do their part to set the mood as suitably oppressive, without carrying the kind of notoriety that made The Hunger Games exceptional, or without the detail that made Children Of Men interesting. The fight scenes are shot in dim lighting, probably to cover up its inadequacies of chorography, and what sci-fi stuff exists is of the basic variety, little more than what you would expect of a garden-variety Doctor Who episode. And why, in this unnamed European metropolis, does everyone speak with a different accent?
In the end, What Happened To Monday feels like a film that thinks it is far more thoughtful, provocative and intelligent than it actually is. It wants to depict a dark future where morality is thrown out the window in service of a vague “Greater Good” but the execution is so comically over the top that the film appears as much cartoonish as serious. Its lead doesn’t have the chops to pull it all together, and the tonal shifts mean you feel like you are watching four different films in the two-hour span, none of them quite good enough to justify the whole enterprise. A lot of effort, for little result. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).