I sort of feel that What Happened to Monday (WHtM) has had the odds stacked against it from the very beginning. As it’s a film primarily about one actress playing several different versions of herself, it’s hard not to make comparisons to the recently concluded TV series, Orphan Black.
But, like any film fan would know, it’s not the idea, but the execution. After all, The Prestige and The Illusionist were released in the same year, and yet their approach to the topic of magic could not be more different. So lets see if WHtM can bring something new to the story of human identity.
Due to overpopulation, a nationwide one-child policy has been implemented in America. For three decades anyone having more than one child will have said child taken away, and placed into cryo-sleep until such time when the nation’s population is under control.
But in a small out-of-the-way hosptial, Terrence Settman (William Defoe) has just lost his daughter while she was giving birth. A birth that resulted in seven baby girls.
Refusing to capitulate to the law, he decides to raise them in secret. He names each of them after a day of the week; and eventually creates a plan that would allow them to have a taste of a normal life.
Under the disguise of a singular individual called Karen Settman (Noomi Rapace), each sister is only allowed to leave the house on the same day of their name. This method of living continues for decades, and by 2073, the sisters have their unique way of life down to a tee.
But one day one of the sisters doesn’t come home, forcing her remaining siblings to investigate in order to find out the answer to the pressing question: What happened to Monday?
Released in certain territories as Seven Sisters, WHtM has an unusually complex setup, taking at least 30 minutes to explain the backstory, the characters, as well as their goals and struggles. As such, you get the impression that film might not have been the best medium for such a intricate story. Perhaps a book might have been a better sell?
However, once the film settles in, there is a sense of fascination as we watch the actual nuts and bolts of seven sisters pretending to be one individual. To this end, it’s clear that much time and effort has been spent trying to make each sister distinctive. But the attempt swerves far too close to basic cliches. There’s the butch sister, the sexy sister, the nerd sister, the athletic sister, and so on. They might as well have called the film Spice Girls: 2073.
That said, Rapace goes to tremendous amounts of effort to make sure each sister behaves in the cliche that they are assigned. As the shy homely sister, she pots around the room with a sense of worry across her brow; while her athletic sister spoils for a fight and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. This effort only makes it all the more disappointing that each sister’s character is far too underdeveloped to properly emphasise with.
The supporting characters also don’t register to the extent the story requires. The two most notable are William Defoe as the septuplets’ grandfather, and Glenn Close as the villainous Nicolette Cayman.
Defoe has far too little screentime, while Close does her best with what is a rather underwritten role. Bringing a sort of duality to her performance, she’s highly reminiscent of the dastardly Mom from Futurama: a sweet maternal figure in public, and a insane aggressive bitch in private.
Unfortunately, WHtM falls into the trap that most ambitious sci-fi does: it’s doesn’t adhere to the rules that it originally sets out. For example, if society is now a totalitarian state with a repressive regime, why are there still free elections? Or, in a world based on fingerprint and iris identification, how on earth could septuplets have pretended to be the same person?
Questions such as these are consistently on the mind; as the film attempts to fuse an interesting premise with extended action sequences that seem stuffed in only to appeal to the beer-swilling Friday night morons.
If anything, that’s the second trap this film falls into: it takes a unique and captivating idea, but chooses to explore said idea through the lens of balls-out action rather than introspective drama. (Similar to the different approaches Never Let Me Go and The Island take in regard to the issue of organ donation. One is clearly superior to the other.)
It’s hard to ignore the nagging feeling that WHtM was birthed into existence purely on the idea of having one actress play seven characters, and then building a story around that idea.
But if you’re looking for a film with an entertaining premise and don’t want to think too hard during its fairly solid action sequences, then WHtM is for you. But those with a more refined sci-fi palate might want to look elsewhere.