The origin story of Netflix’s new film “What Happened To Monday” is, to put it politely, perplexing. Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola pitched the script to producers after finding interest in its futuristic world, which he felt was reminiscent of “Looper” and “Blade Runner:” “sci-fi films with a limited budget — but with a really cool high-concept idea.”
What’s perplexing is the fact that Wirkola managed to piece together a “high-concept idea” from the haphazard string of dystopian tropes that makes up the film. What’s uncomfortably evident is the limited budget: “What Happened to Monday” nearly has all the makings of a cult-status B-movie, with cartoonish characters, campy dialogue and plenty of gore. But in taking itself so seriously, the film fails in its attempt at intellectually stimulating or satisfying science fiction.
“What Happened To Monday” opens up with a series of soundbites from news programs, leaving little to the imagination as it lists out features of its dystopian landscape. To combat mankind’s burden of vast overpopulation, the government has established a strict one-child policy. Additional children are sent into a forced “Cryosleep,” so they may supposedly awaken in a world rid of all its problems.
One murky afternoon, Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe), violating the one-child policy, hides his newborn septuplet granddaughters away in a small apartment following the death of their mother. He teaches them to embrace their individual identities in private, while inhabiting the singular identity of “Karen Settman” out in public on the day of the week according to their names. Thirty years later, “Karen” (Noomi Rapace) holds a high position in the financial sphere, while Monday, Tuesday and the gang keep their private existences a secret.
Of course, this secret is abruptly jeopardized when Monday mysteriously disappears. Suddenly, Cryosleep program director Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) and her many henchmen mercilessly go after the other Settman sisters, initiating a violent cycle of survival and death.
The premise is as underdeveloped as it is convoluted, and the script is filled with glaring plot holes. While “Monday” could have become an original and thought-provoking dystopian thriller, it instead becomes a lackluster composite of science fiction tropes with a thin and predictable storyline.
Not a single character in “What Happened To Monday” demonstrates depth beyond caricature. Although Rapace carries a strong screen presence and does her best with a subpar script, her performance isn’t about how well she can act, but how many different ways she can act. After all, the Settman sisters are all differentiated only by their hairstyles and by a single defining character trait — Friday the smart girl, Saturday the party girl, Sunday the religious girl and so on. Glenn Close’s villainy is nothing more than dystopian stereotype; she plays the quiet, cruel dictator, decked in multiple costumes that look like they’re straight from Julianne Moore’s “Hunger Games” character.
In addition to the poorly developed characters, the dialogue is consistently and painfully corny. A line of emotional encouragement? “You’re Sunday, you’re supposed to be the believer.” Such laughable exchanges between characters make it increasingly difficult to invest in the flimsy storyline, and any intended sentimentality is immediately trivialized.
Somehow, all of this could have been forgiven — and, dare I say, enjoyed — if the film actually leaned into its campiness. There are elements to admire: the brisk pacing, which offers plenty of engaging action, and leaving little room for emotional investment makes “Monday” thoroughly watchable despite its flaws. The film’s violence is handled in a keenly Tarantino-esque fashion; the fight scenes carry plenty of blood and shock value, but maintain a surprising level of quirkiness and style.
However, the film takes itself far too seriously, even making desperate attempts at the end to whip up a philosophical and intellectual backbone that would make the past two hours all worth it. “What Happened To Monday” goes from a wasted opportunity for a successful high-concept sci-fi film to a wasted opportunity for self-aware, clever satire. Ultimately, Wirkola’s promising vision of a modern high-concept sci-fi film falls flat, leaving the audience wondering — what happened?