What Happened to Monday? is a science fiction film found on Netflix, and it is . . . frustrating. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to go with: frustrating. It is directed by Tommy Wirkola and stars Noomi Rapace. In the future depicted in this film, overpopulation has screwed the planet, leading to a very strictly enforced one-child policy. Rapace plays the “dual” role of seven identical sisters who have taken up the collective role of one woman and who have gone through great lengths to ensure that no one will catch onto that fact. Also if they get caught, they’ll be cryogenically frozen. The remaining six sisters must figure out what the hell is going on after one of them disappears. Plot summary: done.
This movie intrigued me with its eye-catching title and trailer/summary, which is why I watched it in the first place. But, boy did it get trying after a while. Rapace is definitely trying to make the best out of a poor script, but that doesn’t save anything. What Happened to Monday? is a prime example of someone with a genuinely cool idea for a scifi dystopia . . . and little else by the way of things like plot and characters.
There are seven sisters in this movie, and that is too much. It would be too much for a good film, with a good script. There’s just not enough time to develop that many people in the span of less than 2 hours, and even less time to get us to care about them. And we are very much supposed to care about them. Sorry, movie, I don’t. Spoilers, by the way. Lots of spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Each sister is named after the day of the week that they are allowed to go outside. Monday is allowed to leave their apartment on Mondays, etc. That’s cool. I’ve always liked day-of-the-week names, but that’s the most interesting thing about them, collectively. This film’s character writing is genuinely awful: Out of the seven sisters, two of them get actual characterization, and the other five are defined solely by what visual stereotype they are. I appreciate that to a point. Show don’t tell is important, it usually makes things better. But “showing” doesn’t help when the only reason you don’t have to “tell” is that everything is so cliche and stereotypical in a visual sense that telling isn’t even needed.
And you can tell that they were leaning really heavily on this, because the less visually distinctive a character’s respective stereotype is, the less time they survive in this movie. If they aren’t immediately identifiable as a certain character cliche, then they have to be gotten rid of. Here are the characters in this movie: bottle-blonde party girl who wears flirtatious pink clothes, nerdy girl with bad posture who wears hoodies with too-long sleeves and glasses, Ripley rip-off with sweat stained tanktop and messy hair, hippie girl with a few braids in her dyed-red hair, and demure girl who wears grandma-ish clothes. The hippie one and the demure one aren’t immediately identifiable as those cliches upon first glance, so they go first, leaving the ones with far more obvious cliches to take the lead. The sister who is essentially the main character and therefore given actual personality traits, Thursday, is not as obviously cliched in a physical/visual sense, but you can tell the second she opens her mouth that she’s the stereotypical rebellious dystopia protagonist who wants adventure in the great, wide somewhere.
That leaves Monday, the titular character, whose twist is ruined by this aforementioned set-up of poor writing. She gets characterization outside of being a visual stereotype, so you know when she disappears, she’s not really gone. Of course she’s not–she’s an actual character among this sea of visually recognizable short-hands for personality. They wouldn’t get rid of her. And since the actual personality they give her is one vaguely antagonistic towards her siblings, guess who turns out to be the main bad guy? “Oh, such a shock!” said no one who watched this. It would actually be a genuine and surprising plot twist if the script didn’t shoot itself in the foot by seeing it fit to only give personality to the most important characters. Instead, they decided that it had to be seven sisters instead of five or four, because some of them needed to be cannon fodder with as much personality as a Star Trek red shirt.
And that’s not even the worst non-twist in this film. It at least took me a few scenes to piece together that Monday was probably the main bad guy of the story. But there is one plot point that is so fucking obvious, that the second it was mentioned, I knew it was going to be a “twist.” Someone who doesn’t know what fiction is could tell where this particular plot point is going. It’s the cyrogenic freezing thing: They don’t freeze you if you’re a sibling who gets caught, they just euthanize you. If that was something you already assumed this totalitarian government did as soon as you read the plot “dystopian future with strict one-child policy,” congratulations, you have an IQ over 1.
I wouldn’t mind this “twist” being in the movie, except for the fact that the entire last act depends on this shocking revelation as a plot point, and I cannot understand for the life of me how these script writers thought anyone would find this “twist” surprising. I cannot understand for the life of me how anyone within the universe of this film found this surprising.
That is an excellent lead-in to my second-largest gripe with this film behind the character writing: this world makes no sense, and the plot does not lend itself to the world shown to us. It’s a lot of little things that are going to seem like nitpicks and unimportant minutia. But this is scifi–a genre utterly dependent upon making a setting that is internally believable. You are creating a world that doesn’t exist, and therefore need to establish it in the mind of the audience as a real place with real nuances and real impacts of whatever dystopian edict you’ve gone with. The dystopian edict this time around is: Overpopulation is bad, everybody only gets one kid.
The world shown here does not reflect that dystopian edict at all. This edict has apparently had no effect on the culture of things or how people talk about stuff like marriage and family planning, or how people view things philosophically. I’ll just give you a few examples:
In the world of Inception, high-power businessmen can undergo training to protect their subconscious from people invading their dreams. That’s not something with huge attention drawn to it, but it’s a thing they can do, because that is a threat they have in the world of Inception.
In Equilibrium, everything looks like the inside of an Apple store, because why wouldn’t it when your populace has no capacity or need for creativity? It’s not called attention to, that’s just how things look.
In Brave New World, their romantic comedies are about people making a commitment to fucking around because, in that world, romantic/sexual monogamy is bad. It’s a detail that fleshes out that world more.
In Gattaca, there’s a two-second scene of a woman checking her potential boyfriend’s genetics at a parlor, showing that these “Check Your Partner’s Genetic Code” places exist. And why wouldn’t they, with the society that is set up?
Those are examples of world building. They’re examples of a writer asking the question “What small things about society would be different if this dystopia I have in mind was the reality?” and then putting those little hints and small touches in their work. What Happened to Monday? has nothing like that. There are no small touches that make this world feel real, nothing that makes it seem like the one-child policy had any tangible impact on anything this society does. Everything that happens, everything that is shown, is “because plot.” The one instance I can think of that came close to saying something about the goings-on of this world was a scene where a bunch of people in a shanty town help one of the characters escape from the cops. There’s the implication that the government, or at least its law enforcement officials, don’t treat the poor very well. That’s is as far as world building goes in this film.
And, as the cherry on top of the sundae, this dystopia doesn’t even make sense.
Why do their dossiers have “Only Child” on them in big, bold letters? That’s totally a nitpick, but in a world where everyone is, by necessity, an only child, why is that specification needed? If they aren’t an only child, they’re not going to be walking around with a pop-up profile saying that they’re a sibling because that’s a death sentence, and if they had a sibling before but don’t now, they’re still an only child. That is a pointless feature only there because the writers apparently thought the audience was too stupid to understand what a one-child policy is.
Why is overpopulation and multiple births even an issue when the ending shows us that this society has fully functioning, readily available artificial wombs? If you’re going to be a dystopia hell-bent on population control, why don’t you just take people’s eggs and sperm, save them for a rainy day, and if a couple wants to have a kid, they go in and ask the Child Allocation Bureau to put their genetic material together in an artificial womb; and if the end result is more than one fertilized egg, get rid of the ones you don’t want and only keep one. They would have total control over that situation; they would stop the whole “too many septuplets are being born” problem without forcing anyone to have an abortion, presumably. Why don’t they do that? They’re acting like there’s no other way to deal with the overpopulation issue when it literally stares you right in the goddamn face at the end of this movie. You’re telling me the society that was apparently okay with a one-child policy and dragging full grown adults and children away to be frozen “for a better time” would balk at the idea of test-tube babies?
This plot itself also doesn’t make sense in the context of the world provided: The Big Bad in charge of the Child Allocation Bureau gets outsed in the end because the populace figured out she killed siblings. It’s clearly not something she wants getting out. So what’s the plot of this movie again? Oh yeah, the Big Bad deciding to kill the main set of siblings in the most noticeable, high-profile, and violent ways possible, all while apparently sanctioning the murder of any random civilian who knows nothing and has nothing to do with anything along the way. How does openly and violently killing these people with no regard for subtlety or secrecy, and leaving a blood and property damage trail the size of fucking Kansas, going to make the CAB look good again?
Is there a reason you’re sending violent mercenaries who kill any civilian who looks at them the wrong way to go apprehend six young women who you could have easily arrested the normal way, as you successfully did with the first two? If the reason is “we wouldn’t have an exciting action movie if we did that,” you fail, movie.
This movie’s interesting premise was squandered by poor execution and a plot with little thought put into its emotional impact or logical sense. Rapace is trying her best to breathe life into these stereotypical cardboard cut-out characters, and she has some fun with their different styles. But she couldn’t save a shit script with a not-big-enough production budget.
It gets a 4/10 from me.