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If you learn only one thing from Noomi Rapace’s filmography, it’s this: She kicks ass, pretty much all the time. She logged three tours as Lisbeth Salander with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. She performed a self-surgery, then sprinted away in Prometheus. But no matter the size of her role, it always felt like filmmakers weren’t maximizing Rapace’s skills. In Netflix’s What Happened to Monday, director Tommy Wirkola and writers Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson have cracked the code: Why settle for one Rapace when you can have seven?
In a summer with Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde, What Happened to Monday is not quite as good as the former but better than the latter. Similar to Gal Gadot and Charlize Theron, Rapace is the best thing about her movie. Rapace plays seven sisters, which means the audience gets to watch seven versions of Rapace issue beatdowns.
Set in 2073, What Happened to Monday occurs in a future where a combination of overpopulation, a shortage of food, and global warming has forced humans into some tough decisions. Genetically enhanced food helps, but it leads to more multi-child pregnancies. It’s like the joke about releasing wolves to solve your deer problem, then having to solve the wolf problem. In the movie, the future’s solution is to dig into the past and institute a policy of one child per family. To save food, space, and resources, subsequent siblings will be put into chyro-sleep and awakened at some unknown point in the future.
Can you guess how well this goes?
The plan, concocted and overseen by Nicolette Caymen (Glenn Close) and enforced by the Child Allocation Bureau, has dramatic results, but in the same way shoving clothes and toys in a closet makes a room look clean. With siblings in hiding all over the place, the CAB and protective parents have their hands full. Enter Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe) and his septuplets (named Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… I think you can guess the rest). Despite his name-choosing acumen, Settman is a good dad. He teaches the girls and raises them as best he can. Then comes the day when he has to let them go into the world. Under the guise of their mother’s name (Karen Settman) the girls each have a day to go outside. I’ll let you figure out how they choose their days.
The movie moves along at a snappy pace and before we know it there are seven fully grown Noomi Rapaces. As anyone who has played hide and seek knows, you can’t stay hidden forever. After 30-odd years of success, the Days are found out and in a sudden race against time. From there film is a series of awesome fights and setpieces, with Rapace kicking ass seven different ways. Similar to Lucid Dream, another foreign film Netflix acquired for U.S. distribution, What Happened to Monday somehow makes a movie with a grim premise that targets children and finds a way to make it fun. I’m not sure how fruitful that niche is, but 2017 is full of all kinds of hard-to-believe things.
To date I haven’t been the biggest fan of Wirkola’s past films, which are all bloody genre movies (the zombie Nazi Dead Snow films and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters). What Happened to Monday is another genre movie, but the difference is that it’s less bloody and, more importantly, he’s working from someone else’s script. Whereas those films are more one-trick ponies, this one has more to hang its hat on. The futuristic world is rendered in a way that has interesting technological advances to match the decline in humanity. The action is thrilling and the choreography is precise.
For as good as the action is, the reason (or reasons) to watch is Rapace. She channels her inner Tatiana Maslany to give each of her characters distinct personalities. The filmmaking and acting that sell the scenes where the Days are all in a room together are impressive. But it really shines in the action scenes, with bodies flying all around. The Days are easy to track, and each character has her own physicality. It’s more than enough to make up for any plot or dialogue deficiencies. For a story with a somewhat convoluted plot, it’s easy to follow. So that’s a plus. The also lends a helping hand, as it trends toward exposition a little too often. But this is a movie that speaks better with its fists than with its mouth.
What Happened to Monday stands with any action film found on movie screens this summer. It’s unfortunate that it won’t have a theatrical run. It would play well to a crowd. But it’s going to end up being a Netflix oddity that people stumble across over the years. And they’ll be glad they did, every day and twice on Sunday.
Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.