In the not-too-distant future, overpopulation has ravaged the planet, and everyone is only allowed to have one child. The surplus children are cryogenically frozen because hey, someday we might need a few extras, I guess, and so everyone goes about their daily life more-or-less normally, content that the system – albeit oppressive – is working in their best interests.
There are worse ideas for sci-fi movies, and there are a heck of a lot worse sci-fi movies than What Happened to Monday. Tommy Wirkola’s new film takes heady ideas and uses them as a backdrop for an engaging mystery, a disturbing conspiracy and a standout lead performance by Noomi Rapace, who has proved time and time again to be one of modern cinema’s most underrated actors, even when she’s given almost nothing to work with (which is most of the time).
Indeed, the only thing better than one Noomi Rapace is seven Noomi Rapaces, so a film like What Happened to Monday is a reason to celebrate. The film doesn’t just star Noomi Rapace, it also stars Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace and Noomi Rapace. These Noomi Rapaces play identical septuplets who, to avoid being cryogenically frozen (or worse), are forced to share a single, solitary life. At home they are individuals named after each day of the week. Outside, and only one at a time, they are all “Karen Settman.”
The plot kicks in when Monday doesn’t come home Monday night, and the remaining Rapaces are forced to go out searching for her, not knowing if Monday has been apprehended, murdered, or maybe even worse. It’s a great set-up and the intrigue is pretty intriguing, but What Happened to Monday soon shows (almost) all of its cards, and it settles into a fast-paced sci-fi action thriller, the likes of which we’ve seen before.
Fortunately, Tommy Wirkola knows how to pump familiar fight scenes and chases with unexpected gags that subvert our expectations. He keeps What Happened to Monday moving quickly enough that it’s relatively easy to overlook the problems in its conceptualization. That is to say, the action here is so distracting that you might not think to ask why, if the biggest problem these septuplets have is that they are all identical, do they not get plastic surgery? Or why, when the bad guys send a goon squad to the assault the septuplets’ apartment, do those bad guys not send any more goon squads afterwards, even though the heroes haven’t gone anywhere, there are still whole bunch of goon squads, and the first attack was already pretty successful.
It’s frustrating that What Happened to Monday doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny because if Wirkola’s film had answered some of its bigger questions it might be a standout feature. What Happened to Monday is a spry film, filled with unusual ideas and entertaining action, but it makes the mistake of presenting itself as high-concept sci-fi without thinking its concept all the way through. It works as an action movie but not as a serious science-fiction movie, and the filmmakers were clearly trying to have it both ways.
Still, you can’t get too upset about a misfire when it hits most of its targets. Noomi Rapace is great here, Tommy Wirkola makes the most out of the film’s big set pieces, and overall What Happened to Monday is just a little bit stronger than its “weekest” link. It’s not worth scheduling your life around the release of this film, but you might want to make note of it in your calendar.
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.