Tommy Wirkola’s What Happened to Monday squanders an evocative premise in favor of rote gun-fu carnage. Rather than investigate the existential and ideological implications of the story’s conceit, the filmmakers settle for providing a suitably action-packed vehicle for Noomi Rapace, who plays septuplet sisters, each named after a day of the week. As an opportunity to watch Rapace kick some ass while donning various wigs, What Happened to Monday delivers a few B-movie thrills, such as a fight scene in which the actress faces off against herself. But with its oddly self-serious tone and clunky, uninventive action, the film displays neither the craft nor the sense of fun to make up for its shallow conception and murky plotting.
Which is a shame, because the film’s sci-fi dystopia—a future in which human overpopulation has led to a global ecological crisis—is inventive. With the world facing mass food shortages, science has responded by developing genetically modified foods, which produce an unusual side effect that only exacerbates the problem: a worldwide spike in multiple births. And so governments enforce a one-child policy, allowing parents to cryogenically freeze leftover children who can be revived if and when the crisis is resolved. But Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe) defies the law, raising his seven daughters in secret, allowing each of them to leave the apartment only once a week on the day assigned by their names, when they take on the persona of Karen. And when one of the sisters goes missing, the rest desperately try to find her while simultaneously attempting to outrun the police.
The film never comes close to elaborating upon the contrast between collective public identity and fractured individual selves. Rapace does her best to bring some unique shading to each of the sisters, and it’s drolly amusing to see her argue with various versions of herself around the dinner table. But these seven characters are never delineated clearly enough, often making it difficult to follow who’s who from scene to scene. Their individual personalities remain frustratingly vague, suggested more by costumes and hairstyling than by anything in the muddled screenplay.
For a time, What Happened to Monday at least seems like it may tackle some of the genuine ethical dilemmas raised by overpopulation, from whether it’s right to have multiple children in a world plagued by a scarcity of food to the matter of who gets to decide such a question. But in the end, the film pulls back from these tricky issues, providing instead nothing but easy moral outs and dull bromides about the importance of family.