WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY: An Uneven Attempt To Fill Orphan Black’s Shoes
While full of plot holes and shakes characters, What Happened to Monday is still a weird, yet perfect movie for a night in.
Hollywood just can’t figure out what to do with Noomi Rapace. The Swedish actress rose to prominence as the pierced punk hacker Lisbeth Salander in the original adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, her performance a bold, brave display of badassery that still had its vulnerable moments. Lisbeth Salander, if played by a less capable performer, could have come off as just a prototypical “strong female character” in steel-toed boots, but Rapace managed to fill every facet of the character with enough fire and fury to set the screen alight.
Yet since this star-making role, Rapace hasn’t been able to find another that so perfectly suits her unusual beauty, inherent toughness and uninhibited nature. That’s not to say she wasn’t absolutely fine as archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus, or as the gypsy fortune-teller Simza in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Both films were the latest installments in the Alien and Sherlock Holmes franchises, respectively, and should have been big hits; unfortunately, they were also incredibly disappointing. In both, Rapace’s star power outshone the mediocre material.
But why isn’t she given better material? Why do all the major leading roles for women go to the same assembly line of cookie-cutter American sweethearts when someone like Rapace is ready and waiting in the wings?
Just Another Manic Monday
Enter What Happened to Monday, a film that gives Rapace not one, not two, but seven starring roles to sink her teeth into. And while the film itself is little more than a bargain basement version of BBC America’s critically acclaimed clone-stravaganza Orphan Black, it’s still the best showcase for Rapace’s talents since she hung up Salander’s leather jacket. Directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) from a script that was featured on the 2010 Blacklist for best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, What Happened to Monday is a dystopian science-fiction story with more holes than your average slice of Swiss cheese. However, thanks to Rapace, it’s still a lot of fun.
The film opens in 2073 with an old science-fiction genre standby – a montage of news clips establishing the current state of the world. In this case, the world is suffering from extreme overpopulation, so much so that a Child Allocation Act has been passed to limit families to having only one child. The Child Allocation Bureau, led by the coolly ambitious Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close, channeling her time as Cruella DeVille), is established to round up any siblings and place them in cryosleep, where they will unconsciously await the day when the world has enough resources to support their existence. One would think that cryogenics would cost the world even more resources than just allowing these people to live normal lives, but that’s just one of the many things about What Happened to Monday that doesn’t make much sense.
Trying to hide one extra child from the Bureau is hard enough, but Terrence Setten (a miscast Willem Dafoe) is tasked with the impossible after his estranged daughter dies giving birth to identical septuplet girls. Naming each one after a different day of the week, Terrence raises all seven girls in utmost secrecy. To the outside world, he is merely raising one girl, known as Karen; each of the septuplets gets their chance to venture outside in character as Karen on their respective day of the week. Terrence is so strict about maintaining this facade that when the rebellious Thursday loses a fingertip in a skateboarding accident, he slices the same fingertip off each of the other six sisters so that they remain identical. It’s a chilling example of how far one man will go to protect his family, not to mention an important lesson for the girls: anything they do in life will affect their sisters just as much as it does them.
I Don’t Like Mondays
As they grow into adults, some of the septuplets relish playing Karen, but others end up resentful and bitter that they’re unable to form lasting relationships, make their own choices or live a life out of hiding. The one means they have of showing their individuality is changing up their hair – and even then, they still have to cover it with a wig in the form of Karen’s glossy black ponytail when they leave the house. Each one must report on all the day’s activities to her sisters as soon as they return home at the end of their respective day, so that they don’t break the illusion that they are one in the same. Even the slightest mistake – a forgotten memory, a misspoken word – could reveal their status as siblings to the Child Allocation Bureau.
Sounds complicated? It only gets worse when one day, Monday doesn’t come home from work. Known for being a punctual perfectionist, Monday’s out of character absence leads her sisters to investigate what happened to her. After all, if her true identity has been discovered, they will all be next in line for cryosleep – or even death.
What follows is a violent, frenetic quest for the truth in which – spoiler alert – more than one of the seven sisters meet gruesome ends. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot; suffice to say, the end game starts to become pretty obvious before the two-hour film reaches its climax. Along the way, Rapace kicks a lot of butt as her various characters, all of whom seem to have a decent amount of martial arts training – though, with a highly paranoid grandfather, a handy holographic punching bag in the house and nothing else to do for six days of the week, that isn’t as unrealistic a notion as it could be.
While What Happened to Monday feels too long, especially as it winds towards its bloody conclusion, I wish more time had been devoted to fleshing out the identities of the sisters. How did Friday come to discover her talents as a computer genius? Why did Thursday cut off all her hair? What led Tuesday to become so anxious that she uses pot brownies to ease her nerves?
The best thing about Orphan Black is the way Tatiana Maslany embodies so many wildly different, complicated, fierce women and their various hopes for the future, thanks to both her amazing acting ability and the show’s excellent, emotion-driven writing. While Rapace is magnetic throughout What Happened to Monday no matter which woman she’s playing, the script doesn’t reveal enough about what makes each of the sisters unique. It would have been ideal to get to know them better as regular women before they all launched into fight-or-flight mode, but the film rushes through their unusual upbringing to get to the mayhem.
Once the mayhem starts, far too many scenes are spent with one or more sisters staring at Friday’s giant computer set-up – a convenient excuse for the characters to be able to communicate and monitor each other’s moves nonstop throughout the film – while the action happens elsewhere. The film’s futuristic technology, including holographic screens one can pull up in the palm of one’s hand, is too frequently used to paper over plot holes.
But despite these various weaknesses, What Happened to Monday is still weird, wacky fun, a B-movie with a capital B that has been bolded, italicized and underlined for good measure. That it is being released on Netflix in the U.S. and UK, instead of in theaters, makes total sense; while it is definitely not worth paying full price to see on a big screen, it’s a perfect movie for a fun night in with friends and a few bottles of wine. While it still falls short as an ideal star vehicle for Rapace, it shows that she is more than capable of headlining a big franchise. Hollywood just needs to find one worthy of her talents.
What do you think? Should Hollywood open its eyes to Noomi Rapace? What other roles would you like to see her take on? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
What Happened to Monday is currently streaming as a VOD on Netflix.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.