What Happened To Monday is a dystopian film taking place in a futuristic police state that is bathed in expositional dialogue, and it hits Netflix on August 18. It tries to be many different things, from a detective story to an action film to an overly complicated conspiracy theory. While the movie's identity is constantly shifting between genres, it never becomes a drag thanks in large part to the dynamic acting from the lead. It's a movie that tries to be a lot of things, but if you forget about the convoluted story, What Happened To Monday can be a fun ride.
In a fictionalized version of the United States where having more than one child is illegal, a police state is formed that is guided by the Child Allocation Bureau (CAB). The CAB gives citizens identity bracelets to wear at all times, and families who break the new law see their kids put into cryosleep, where they'll wake up in a supposedly much better future where all of the world's problems have been solved.
Before the actual story is introduced, this information is dumped on the audience. It's quite a bit to take in, and there are more bizarre elements sprinkled in: GMOs cause people to have multiple babies at once, overpopulation will kill everyone, and climate change will end humanity's ability to grow crops. It's a bit confusing--as well as distracting--to see a science-fiction movie take so many staunch stances in the opening minutes of the film. Regardless, all of this creates an interesting atmosphere. It's a science-fiction world that doesn't feel too far off from our own, which helps create a solid connection between the audience and the movie.
The story quickly begins to unfold, as Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe) faces the task of raising a set of septuplets after his wife dies during childbirth. Because of the one-child-per-family law, he is forced to keep them largely secret. Each child is named after a day of the week and is only allowed to go into the public on that day, in order to avoid being discovered. One day, Monday goes out to work but never returns home. As the movie's title suggests, the siblings try to solve the mystery of what happened to their sister.
This happens about 30 minutes into the film, but it feels more like an hour. There is so much being thrown at the audience that it's hard to keep track of what is going on. And as soon as the viewer feels like they have a grasp on everything in the story, What Happened To Monday changes genres and becomes more of an action film mixed with espionage, and the direction of the plot is thrown off course as well. The change is jolting and confusing, and it seems like the movie is having a mid-life crisis, trying desperately to come into its own. Prior to this point, the movie felt a tad convoluted, but it worked for a science-fiction film. Like many other films in the genre, a simple story forcefully blossoms into one about taking down an authoritarian government, which is a bit of a disappointment considering the detective story the film sets up was far more interesting.
The shining star of What Happened To Monday is Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) who plays all seven of the Settman septuplets. That is undeniably a lot to take on, and it easily could have been a disaster, but thanks to Rapace's portrayal and the writing team, there was enough there to give the women individual personalities. Obviously, these characters require different looks and styles to set them apart, but the real defining moments come from the dialogue. Rapace subtly changes her voice--through tone, pacing, and accents--for each of the characters, which plays into the character's strengths and weaknesses: one is harsh and angry because of past trauma, one is quiet and passive because of her insecurities, etc. While, at first, these characters all seem like the same person, Rapace's performance ultimately sets them apart. The only aggravating part about all of this is trying to figure out who is who, as the movie never provides the name for each character, which would have saved everyone a whole lot of time and frustration.
What's most disappointing about What Happened To Monday is the underlying potential to be something exceptional. The synopsis and first act present a science-fiction detective landscape. When was the last time we got a memorable detective story within that genre--maybe Blade Runner? Sadly, that's not what the core of the movie is about. It's really about survival within a police-run state, and the movie doesn't veer too much away from that, even when the main focus of the film seems to present the narrative of taking down a futuristic government that's too controlling of its people, a story we've seen one too many times.
What Happened To Monday is a entertaining, yet convoluted film. Although it suffers in the fact that there's too much going on, and it's a bit disjointed, the world where it takes place is reason enough to check it out, as is Rapace's performance. It's a film trying to be high concept that never gives the audience a moment to breathe or catch up; however, if you have a couple hours to spare and nothing to watch on Netflix, What Happened To Monday is worth the time.
What Happened To Monday debuts on Netflix this Friday, August 18.
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