Film review | Seven bullets for seven sisters

Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola is back: this time with What Happened to Monday, starring Noomi times

All Noomi, all the time: something of a gimmick, but Noomi Rapace's times-seven performance in sci-fi shocker What Happened to Monday is not to be sniffed at
All Noomi, all the time: something of a gimmick, but Noomi Rapace's times-seven performance in sci-fi shocker What Happened to Monday is not to be sniffed at

The Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola is back with another slice of slick B-movie hokum that’s becoming his stock-in-trade. After securing a seat in the contemporary cult horror pantheon with the Nazi-zombie horror comedies Dead Snow (2009) and Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead (2014), Wirkola got a shot at Hollywood with the similarly ludicrous Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) which yes, was as silly as it sounds.

Now on board the Netflix bandwagon for something just a tad more sombre – courtesy, in large part, of an uneven script by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson – Wirkola multiplies Noomi Rapace for seven times, all for the sake of a high-concept sci-fi thriller that oozes potential but never quite gives into its inherent ridiculousness.

After the world is ravaged by climate change and a plethora of biological disasters, world governments agree to implement an idea spearheaded by Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) – a global one-child policy, with any ‘leftover’ children forcibly placed into cryo-sleep once “things get better”, and heavy surveillance ensures that few dare break this iron-clad rule of the new world order.

But one family has managed to buck this trend and remain alive. Raised by their grandfather (Willem Defoe) who teaches them to adopt the personality of their deceased mother, Karen Settman, in real life, seven identical twins avoid the watchful eye of the authorities by sticking to a rigid schedule. To wit, each of them only goes out of house once a week, on the day that corresponds to their given name.

That way, as far as the wider world is concerned, all seven of them (all played by Noomi Rapace) are one and the same person.

But when the sister going by ‘Monday’ disappears during what was meant to be just another routine day at her bank job, the remaining sisters begin to feel the bite of paranoia, and set about on a dangerous mission to get her back.

Rapace is to be commended for her efforts, of course, and her natural charisma and physicality shines through as it always has, ever since she first stole our hearts as the girl with the dragon tattoo. You’ll still end up somewhat confused as to who’s who but that’s okay: come the film’s latter half – when the secret police comes knocking – the action moves things a lot at a steady-enough clip for it not to really matter anymore.

While the main draw for most will doubtlessly be the curiosity-show of seeing Noomi Rapace-times-seven in any given shot, What Happened to Monday also dangles the carrot of an intriguing sci-fi thriller concept in front of us, only to mash it up into forgettable sludge in the first quarter.

Indeed, budding purveyor of catchy trash cinema as he may be, Wirkola is not a visionary director by any stretch of the imagination (and his film does require you to suspend belief one to many times already). This isn’t the meticulously crafted, poignant and lyrical world of Alfonso Cuaron’s infidelity-crisis sci-fi drama Children of Men (2006). And although Wirkola does more or less venture into the same cyberpunk sandbox as Ridley Scott did with Blade Runner (1982), a few CGI high-rise buildings, some flashy vertical computer screens and a stoic, mad genius villian (Close) doesn’t quite do justice to that comparison (though thankfully, Wirkola isn’t latter-day Scott either, and for that we should be thankful).

As such, you shouldn’t really come here for the detailed world-building, or a thought-provoking vision of the future. Wirkola doesn’t really manage to punch his way out of his comfort zone, but when the punches do start flying, that’s when it gets fun for everyone. Proving once again that the preposterous is his idiom, Wirkola gets plenty of mileage out of the proceedings once the sisters are well and truly put to the test, and have to sneak, kick and kill their way out of some nasty corners.

Even fans of his Dead Snow series might raise a wry grin during one particular scene, which revels in the idea that bodily dismemberment should not equal a handicap – you just have to apply quick, creative thinking to get out of your sticky predicament.

And this is the only real problem with What Happened to Monday, which is otherwise a perfectly servicable piece of sci-fi hokum to help you pass the time during a lazy summer afternoon. While flashes of both cartoonish over-the-top violence and black humour are firmly in evidence during some of the set-pieces, they often end up being drowned out by a script that “has something to say”, without really committing to a style, a budget and a set of capable-enough performers with which it could “say” it with conviction. This sucks some joy out of what could have truly been a hyper-kinetic and memorable slice of trash.

Netflix may have had something of a hit-and-miss track record with its feature films so far, but What Happened to Monday sees the streaming service play to their strengths. Namely, the ability to provide easily-digestible genre entertainment with a solid high-concept hook, and some moments of gleeful fun along the way. Sure, the (trashy) glee could have been turned up a couple of notches higher, but you can’t always have everything now, can you? (Apparently not). 

What Happened to Monday is currently streaming on Netflix