Locarno Film Review: ‘What Happened to Monday’

A ludicrous, violent, amusingly dumb sci-fi actioner from Tommy Wirkola that casts Noomi Rapace as septuplets battling a dystopian regime.

'What Happened to Monday' Review: Stupendously Silly Sci-Fi

There is no strobe lighting in Tommy Wirkola’s sci-fi film, which debuts soon on Netflix, but epileptics triggered by rhythmic, dazzling flashes of blinding stupidity should consider themselves warned away from “What Happened to Monday.” Max Botkin’s original script for this preposterous dystopian tale landed on the 2010 Black List, underwent a gender swap, a title change and a rewrite by Kerry Williamson, to end up so rife with plot holes it feels macraméed rather than written. However, in the hands of Wirkola (“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”), as well as star Noomi Rapace in her multiple turn as septuplets named for the days of the week (yes, “Monday” is a person here), it attains such a level of lurid brainlessness that cult reappraisal may happen at some point, after a decent interval of sober reflection has passed.

It is the Near Future and grievous overpopulation has led to overreliance on GM crops which cause abnormally high instances of multiple births. And so governments have instigated a draconian one-child policy by which any additional siblings born will be forcibly cryogenically frozen until an unspecified future date when everything will be copacetic. Nobody seems to notice that this cost-prohibitive cryo-program sounds a lot like a parent’s transparent assurance that Bingo the family dog has gone to live on a nice farm that no, you can never, ever visit. But why wouldn’t they have faith in Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close), the program’s zealous director? Her shellacked hairdo and retinue of Aryan thugs alone simply scream “trustworthy.”

For reasons never very clear (a proviso that could preface any given line of plot description here), Willem Dafoe’s Terrence Settman decides to circumvent the Child Allocation Act and hide his seven granddaughters away. He develops a single cover identity — “Karen Settman” — that each sister takes on when allowed out of the apartment on the one day of the week corresponding to her name. Still with us? OK. Thirty years later, the combined skillset of Monday through Sunday, now all played by Rapace and differentiated by hairstyle and/or single character attribute (clever, blonde, bossy, sporty, etc.) much like the Spice Girls, has resulted in “Karen Settman” having an important job in finance.

But that job brings “Karen” into conflict with perma-smirking co-worker Jerry (Pål Sverre Hagen) who hints darkly that he “knows her secret” and could not more obviously be a smokescreen for the real baddie if he were played by an actual red herring. Then Monday mysteriously disappears, and Cayman’s interchangeably steroidal henchmen come after the remaining sisters. Why Cayman wants rid of the Settman Seven is explained — the very existence of these women “will destroy my credibility!” hisses multiple Oscar nominee Glenn Close, the steely glint of her eyes not quite obscuring the cartoon dollar signs therein. But why her bloodthirsty goons go about it in such piecemeal fashion is not, except that this way we get a lot of Noomi Rapaces fighting and dying in a lot of different ways. Indeed, anyone whose peculiar kink is watching Noomi Rapace sob open-mouthed in grief over a dead Noomi Rapace has quite the fetish object to enjoy.

Some nominative determinism is at work, such as with Sunday who is the religious one, Saturday who is the peroxided party girl and Friday, who wears glasses and does computers like a real Girl Friday. And when one’s attention wanders, it’s fun to relate the characters to the old “Monday’s child” rhyme or to “7 Days,” the 2000 megahit single by Craig David. But mostly the job of individualization is left to Rapace, who, in her gum-snapping sexpot persona as Saturday gets to utter the immortal line, “It’s called acting.” Indeed it is.

Approached with the right frame of mind, “Monday” is kind of a blast, but that’s not to suggest it is well-intentioned: Just check out the casual deployment of the c-word, iffily consensual sex scene (co-starring Dutch-Tunisian hunk Marwan Kenzari, recently cast in Disney’s live-action “Aladdin”) and explicit violence (as well as headshots, we get toilet-bowl face-smashings, finger-loppings, eyeball-gougings, knife-slashings and the immolation of small children).

We’re used to dumb-as-paint sci-fi actioners being cynical cash-cows that wear their contempt for their audience on the sleeve into which they snigger all the way to the bank. But Wirkola’s film is set apart by its almost heroic lack of self-awareness: Not only does it not realize how dumb it is, there’s a real sense that it thinks it’s smart. In fact it’s a whirlygig of inanely convoluted plotting, deeply dubious philosophy and shots of Noomi Rapace sliding glasses across tables to herself. You should probably watch it.

Locarno Film Review: ‘What Happened to Monday’

Reviewed in Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), Aug. 5, 2017. Running time: <strong>123 MIN. </strong>

  • Production: (U.K.-U.S.-France-Belgium) A Netflix (in U.S.) release of an Impuls Pictures AG presentation of a Nexus Factory, Title Media, Vendome Pictures production, in co-production with SND Films. (International sales: SND Films, Amsterdam.) Producers: Raffaella De Laurentiis, Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi.
  • Crew: Director: Tommy Wirkola. Screenplay: Max Botkin, Kerry Williamson. Camera (color, DCP): José David Montero. Editor: Martin Stoltz. Music: Christian Wibe.
  • With: Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Willem Dafoe, Marwan Kenzari, Christian Rubeck, Pål Sverre Hagen, Clara Read, Tomiwa Edun, Cameron Jack, Cassie Clare. (English dialogue)