starring Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Pål Sverre Hagen, Willem Dafoe
screenplay by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson
directed by Tommy Wirkola
by Alice Stoehr The bad news manifests itself in a flurry of stock footage and newscasters' voices. "Too many people, not enough food," declares one near-future pundit. "It is the biggest crisis in human history," adds another. Dr. Nicolette Cayman, a politician so Thatcher-esque that Glenn Close plays her in pearls and a navy blue suit, helps Europe's now-federalized government institute a strict one-child policy. Her Gestapo-like Child Allocation Bureau (or "CAB") patrols city streets, threatening hidden siblings with indefinite cryogenic stasis. So far, so familiar. It's much like Soylent Green or Children of Men or any of a dozen other dystopian thrillers. But What Happened to Monday's knotty premise continues: What if, say, seven identical sisters grew up in this political climate? They could each leave the house exactly one day a week, each time assuming the same collective identity. And what if one of these sisters, while out and about, happened to disappear?
Noomi Rapace is bank employee Karen Settman--all seven of her. Her colleagues see her in heels, ruby lipstick, and a black wig; at home, though, the sisters drop the charade. They become career girl Monday, punky malcontent Thursday, computer nerd Friday, and so on. Cooped up together, they vocalize their fears and resentments, but also afford one another companionship. Rapace, with her thick Swedish accent and sharp cheekbones, affects a slightly different voice for each sister. Blond Saturday is loose and insouciant, while Tuesday is mumbly and high-strung. This septuple performance is a showcase, a stunt, but Rapace endows it with depth. After Monday vanishes, the plot intensifies into a labyrinthine mystery. The sisters brawl with CAB agents, then grieve as their ranks dwindle. Through each individualized set of behaviours, Rapace suggests how a cloistered upbringing may have shaped these women.
Frankly, she's the whole show, and What Happened to Monday's generic sci-fi framework feels like a pretext for her to pull off this conceit. Her male co-star, the handsome Marwan Kenzari, doesn't figure heavily in the film until its last act. He plays Adrian, an agent in love with one (or more) of the sisters. Close's Dr. Cayman is a boilerplate villain, the type familiar from recent YA adaptations. (Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson... Eventually every actress over forty will get to play a post-apocalyptic despot.) Willem Dafoe appears in a few flashbacks as the grandfather who raised the sisters. Much of his thankless screentime requires that he convey exposition in that sandpaper voice--unworkable lines like, "You will each get to go outside on the day of the week that is your name."
Assorted heavies and henchmen round out the small cast, several of them Norwegian like the film's director, Tommy Wirkola, best known for his Dead Snow series. Christian Rubeck, for example, plays Cayman's brusque lieutenant, and Pål Sverre Hagen is Karen's slimy co-worker, who's killed while sipping from a milk carton in a nod to The Manchurian Candidate. Like many genre films on tight budgets, What Happened to Monday was shot in Bucharest, Romania. Coupled with the multitude of accents applied to its English-language dialogue, this leaves its geographic setting ambiguous. It's just somewhere with thoroughfares full of pedestrians, exterior walls plastered with propaganda, and sterile CAB labs behind fortified façades, a city replete with nooks and crannies the athletic Wednesday can wriggle through as she holds off a SWAT team in hot pursuit. Though the film's action may be crudely staged and photographed, the violence itself in unflinching. She garrottes one agent with a shower hose and trips another onto his own knife with a fridge door. Crowbar, bookshelf, boiling water: nothing's off-limits for improvised weaponry. Nor is anyone safe, since a child's incinerated onscreen, and Rapace herself dies several gory deaths.
Even by the downbeat metric of dystopian sci-fi, the attrition sustained by What Happened to Monday's heroines is a little shocking. It's a testament to Rapace's acting that despite all the bloodshed, not one of the women ever feels expendable. Every loss is a real loss. Two sisters even die in the midst of saying "I love you," because this is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. It won't kick off an epic franchise, nor is it a feat of world-building. It's trashy and riddled with clichés. But throughout its lurid twists and turns, its reversals and red herrings, it's still earnestly invested in interdependent notions of self and sisterhood. In a bleak and threadbare future, Noomi Rapace proves seven times over that love can survive.