Netflix-original film What Happened to Monday (2017) scores more points for its deft deployment of Noomi Rapace in an eyeball-kicky action role than it does for realistic future worldbuilding. But it’s an entertaining, attractive production, with some nifty visuals and robust themes.
It takes place fifty-odd years from now, on an Earth wracked by climate change and facing catastrophic overpopulation. The nebulous world government has formed the Child Allocation Bureau, headed by stern politician Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close), to enforce a one-child-per-family law. Despite the worldwide population crisis, the law is controversial—and for some, like the wealthy Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe), it’s unconscionable. When his wife dies giving birth to septuplets, he uses his vast resources to save them, setting them up in a tricked-out loft apartment where they’ll share the persona of Karen Settman (Rapace), a gestalt fictional person whom the sisters, named after the days of the week, take turns portraying. The trouble starts when Monday disappears after a day of work, sending the others into a panic. If Monday is dead, will they all have to remain in hiding? If she isn’t dead, what happened to her? Working together, they set out across the vast, unnamed European city they call home to solve the mystery and preserve their precarious mutual existence.
The core concept is enticing and ripe for visual exploitation, leveraging the kind of camera tricks and post-production techniques that made Orphan Black possible. Of course, Noomi Rapace is no Tatiana Maslany, so the theatrics aren’t nearly as clever or effective. On the other hand, Maslany is no Rapace, who makes the frantic action setpieces gripping and convincingly physical. The nuts-and-bolts features of its future world are nicely detailed, and the bleak Europeans cityscapes are impressive.
Unfortunately What Happened to Monday struggles with its bigger picture. Its world-building is profoundly infodumpy, and its clumsy, on-the-nose dialogue is only occasionally believable. Moments of faulty plot logic abound, and the pacing and logistics of the action are glaringly convenient, clearly calculated to enable whichever scenes the screenwriters feel like indulging in. Finally, it “shocking” plot twist near the end is pretty predictable.
Still, there’s something to be said for the confident way it carries off its violent, heavy-handed storytelling. Rapace is always engaging, and the spectacle is perfectly diverting. I would have much preferred a smarter, more nuanced handling of the serious futurism themes central to its worldbuilding, especially in the tonally muddled final moments, but by and large I found the campy, energetic journey worth a look.