“What Happened to Monday” is as much a title as it is a question about itself. Directed by Tommy Wirkola (“Dead Snow,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”), the Netflix original production lands somewhere in a creative middle ground. Part fugitives-on-the-run thriller, part post-apocalyptic familial drama, Wirkola’s latest is a perplexing amalgamation. Its identity is the absence of one.
Set in a not too distant future where families are limited to one child, due to overpopulation, the story opens on the Settman household. After the passing of their father, Terence Settman (Willem Dafoe), a family of seven sisters (all played by Noomi Rapace, channeling Tatiana Maslany’s one-woman ensemble on “Orphan Black”) must keep the family name alive. Of course, due to the law — enforced by politician Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) — no one can know that seven Settmans reside in one home.
For convenience, the sisters are named by the days of the week: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on. These names are also indicators. Each sister is allowed to leave the home on “her” day. Nothing more, nothing less. In turn, the Settmans have constructed a prison of their own. To all simultaneously wander outside would be to risk their lives. To stay inside much longer would be to risk their sanity.
Written by Max Botkin and Kerry Williamson (“Alex Cross”), “What Happened to Monday” teases at the idea of being this contained family affair: seven women trapped in their home, hiding from the law. Rapace has the manic energy and emotional dexterity to pull off these parts. She’s seven characters at once, and none of them feel the same. The initial in-fighting between the sisters is what pulls the audience in. Wirkola focuses on tight close-ups to give a sense of Rapace’s range. The contours are varied and striking.
Then, “What Happened to Monday” shape-shifts into a low-rent “Children of Men” meets “Blade Runner.” Cayman and the government catch onto the Settmans’ scheme. The sisters represent a institutional failing. Cayman is embarrassed and demands that her underlings “take care” of the situation. Quietly.
Once the national government goes on a womanhunt for the surviving sisters, all the dramatic tension within Wirkola’s film is drained. This narrative pivot is the conventional and predictable move to make, as the script demands Rapace transform into an action star. As the government closes in, the sisters disperse. Survival is their objective.
Theoretically, this should up the ante of “What Happened to Monday,” and yet it’s a deflating direction. Watching the sisters be hunted and shot at grows tiresome quickly. The action sequences are sloppily staged, the editing makes the combat nearly indecipherable, and human lives are dispatched with no regard. There’s no weight to the deaths. Sisters come and go, much like our interest in them.
There’s some attempt at unpacking the moral complexities of Cayman’s job. She’s the ringleader behind the “one child per family” ethos. According to the statistics and science, this is what had to be done. Overpopulation was running rampant, resources more and more scarce. Limiting procreation didn’t exactly go over well with people. Cayman took on that responsibility and burden.
The script, once again, hints on trying to her understand her perspective. How someone can so quickly become the face of something they intellectually believe in, but ethically can’t reconcile. Close is about as good of an actress for this role as we have today, but even she can’t salvage a script that refuses to focus. Any time we inch closer towards emotion, it runs away.
Wirkola is more comfortable engaging with gunfire than people. This has always been true; he’s built a fine reputation for himself as a B-movie pop artist. A glance at his filmography reveals a director whose convinced enough people that he’s competent to lead a project with a sizable budget. He appears to be a persuasive pitcher.
But there’s nothing in “What Happened to Monday” that feels especially necessary right now. It retreads familiar terrain in a way that will make you want to rewatch the movies that inspired it. That’s not the worst feeling to elicit.