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In a future where there are too many people and not enough food, a shady government agency deals with overpopulation by allowing each family to only have one child. One earth, one child, and no siblings tolerated. What happens when someone gives birth to twins, or, dare I ask, identical septuplets? This is the premise behind What Happened to Monday.
This sci-fi thriller, which was directed by Tommy Wirkola and written by Max Bodkin and Kerry Williamson, opened in theaters overseas but premiered as a Netflix original in the U.S. in 2017. Perhaps because it didn't make the big screen in the States, What Happened to Monday flew under many peoples' radar. When it came out, I remember adding it to my own queue… and then I quickly forgot about it as the new season of Orange is the New Black/House of Cards/Bojack Horseman/etc. hit soon after. This film fell by the wayside, and it deserves a better shot than that. Sure, sci-fi films that depict dystopian futures are insanely common these days, but this film provides yet another instance where the themes and issues brought up at the time of the movie's creation in 2017 hit even harder in 2019.
The central premise is mostly what I have stated above — to deal with overpopulation, the "Child Allocation Bureau" run by Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) goes around a futuristic city rounding up any and all children (or adults) that they think might be a sibling. If they find one, these siblings are detained… and ultimately put into cryo-sleep until the crisis has passed. If you buy their promise on that, then I've got some bridges that you might like.
A woman named Karen Settman dies while giving birth to identical septuplets, and things don't look good for these wee little babies. The CAB is sure to find out, round them all up, and put them under for the long sleep.
Not on Willem Dafoe's watch!
Dafoe plays their grandfather Terrence, and he steals the Settman septuplets away to an apartment full of hiding places. He names each one after a day of the week, and creates a very strict system under which the seven of them can live: one day a week (on the day that the sibling is named for), one of them can go out in the world in the guise of Karen Settman, and live her life
Say it's a Thursday. Thursday herself, complete with all of the information about what happened to Wednesday the day before, would match the current look of Karen Settman completely, and then go out into the world as her. The other siblings continue to hide away in their secret apartment.
All seems to go well, even after the siblings have grown up and Terrence is no longer in the picture. They keep to this routine, even though they've all developed their own distinct personalities, with some are chafing under the leash. Most of them are tired of the "mask" that is Karen Settman, and some just want a normal life.
When Monday suddenly vanishes on, you know, a Monday, things get complicated. The remaining siblings have to figure out what happened to Monday (the title is only spoken once), as well as continue to protect themselves. Things devolve, and the story takes many unexpected turns. I thought that I'd had the movie figured out at one point — I assumed that it would just entail the remaining six siblings trying to find Monday while maintaining their cover. It's not that... not at all. It's much better.
I won't spoil any more of the story, and rest assured that everything above is the broad strokes that kick everything off. The real surprises are the things that come next.
Those plot turns, though, are not the real reason you should watch this movie. The biggest and best reason to give it a stream are the performances of Noomi Rapace, who plays all seven siblings. She plays the entire week.
Rapace, best known for being the original Lisbeth Salander in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptations (and for her turn in Prometheus), is fantastic here, taking a small page out of the Tatiana Maslany/Orphan Black playbook. She gives a different personality to each sibling, and it's done quite successfully. Even when they are all together, you still know who's who. They may not be as distinct as the clones in Orphan Black, but that was a story told in long-form over many seasons of TV, and Rapace has about two hours to do something similar.
The siblings that stand out the most are the ones who fall into easy archetypes — Friday is the withdrawn tech genius, Saturday is a blonde party girl who often gets drunk on her day out, Wednesday is the resident a**-kicker, and Sunday is the woman of faith.
Thursday proves to be interesting also, as she's the biggest screw-up in the family. In flashbacks, we see the siblings growing up under Terrence (where they are played by Clara Read, also excellent), and Thursday sneaks out for some skateboarding. She gets into an accident, and loses part of a finger.
What then has to happen? All of the other six siblings have to have that same bit of finger chopped off to maintain the ruse. Thanks, Thursday!
It's hard to pick a favorite sibling, because Rapace brings something interesting to all of them. Wednesday has a couple of fantastic action sequences, but Friday also earns high marks. It's a testament to Rapace that you never, ever feel like you're watching one person. You are always watching seven, and you completely forget that one woman is playing them all. It's not an easy thing to accomplish, and if there can only be one reason to stream this movie, it is that feat. Rapace certain should have won the 2017 Maslany Award.
Thankfully there doesn't need to be only one reason to stream it, because that's dumb. Rapace is the central, megaton force at the film's center, but Glenn Close is also terrifying as Cayman, the woman in charge of the CAB. The ethical issues brought up are fascinating to ponder as well — yes, this is a horrible solution to a huge problem, but how else would you solve it? Aren't they doing the right thing for humanity as a whole?
No, not really. As much as the "bad guys" of this movie try to convince you, the world, and themselves that they are doing the right thing… nah. When Cayman has an attack of conscience about how they are treating children, her lead stooge tells her, "This is on their parents, not you." Sound familiar?
Certain reveals make what the CAB is really up to even worse, but those reveals are best saved for the movie.
This is a stylishly designed, well-executed piece of science fiction that had me thinking for days, and it also features a tour-de-force performance from the highly underrated Noomi Rapace. Give this one a stream — it will surprise you. A great many things happened to Monday, so spin this one up and discover what they are.
What Happened to Monday is streaming on Netflix right now.