Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, Noomi Rapace, and Noomi Rapace play seven sisters with seven character traits and seven haircuts. The septuplets live in the kind of Euromerican dystropolis where everyone speaks English with a different accent. What Happened to Monday is set in a misery brokedown-future assembled from paranoid spare parts. Overpopulation leads to food shortages leads to gene-altered sustenance leads to a sibling-birth epidemic leads to a single-child policy leads to fascism. You get it. But what if I told you the end result is Glenn Close as a mad scientist politician who never blinks and looks like Hillary Clinton’s fashion sense cherry-on-top’d by Carson Kressley’s hair? Do I have your attention?
Monday starts off with simmering, claustrophobic tension. The Noom-atic, Rapace-ious women have lived in secrecy their whole lives, shepherded from the only-child gestapo by their loopy grandfather. Grandpa’s only around for flashbacks, but he’s Willem Dafoe, and just when you think you’re watching one of Dafoe’s poignant performances, he pulls out the kitchen blade to chop something that ain’t food. The seven sisters are named for their appointed day of walking around outside. They look the same, but they’re all a little different. Monday’s blue. Tuesday’s gray (and Wednesday, too). Thursday’s doesn’t care about you. Friday – Friday – has gotta get down on Friday. Everyone’s worried about Saturday’s night fever, and Sunday comes afterward.
If you’re thinking this is Noomi Rapace Orphan Blacking, you’re not wrong. The first scene around the dinner table with seven variations of the Swedish actress will give you Maslany flashbacks. There’s the wild-eyed blonde one, the one with glasses who does machines, the one who’s cool but rude, Michelangelo is a party dude. Together the sibs live a phony shared identity: “Karen Settman,” hardworking salary-person for the Very Big Corporation of the Future. Then one day – guess which one! – Monday goes to work and doesn’t come home. Was she murdered? Childcatched? Can her sisters rescue her, or are they walking into a trap?
The material could be a sensitive inquiry into identity or a tense corpo-core future thriller. That’s the vibe from the first half; it’s a bit of a snooze. But here’s where I should tell you that What Happened to Monday is directed by Tommy Wirkola, a true junk-genre duke. Wirkola directed Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. More importantly, he made two Dead Snow films about killing demonic Nazi zombies in cool climates (which admittedly played much differently before back before demonic Nazi zombies started invading warm climates.)
So Monday heel-turns into B-movie delightfulness with the most unexpected action scene of the summer. It’s a rough and tumble showdown: Bad Dudes With Guns vs. a Regiment of Rapaces. Wirkola’s staging is clean and humorous –- it’s a loft-space Home Alone, fought through kitchenettes and living rooms. And it’s endearingly fatal. Let’s just say Rapace has more death scenes than Prometheus had xenomorphs.
Monday’s being released here on Netflix. (Abroad, it’s titled Seven Sisters; when did we stop giving crazy movies crazy names?) It’s a return, of sorts, for Rapace, who had her first and still best showcase in America when the original Swedish Girl With a Dragon Tattoo trilogy hit the incipient streaming service at the start of this decade. There was a moment circa 2011 when everyone seemed to know and love her Lisbeth Salander. That film’s rise to streaming prominence was an early sign of streaming’s prominence. It also set the stage for an all-time lunch eating: Your dopey uncle who never watches foreign films skipped Fincher’s pointlessly stylish Dragon Tattoo remake because he preferred the original blend.
Here, Rapace is playing a few different variations of Salander-ish aggressiveness, morally tough and actually tough and fake tough and just plain freaked out. She gives seven performances; at least four are good. It’s an audition for smarter roles than Hollywood’s been giving her, maybe. Or maybe it’s a wigstore-raiding lark. The film meanders too much, never quite loses its layer of gray-grim seriousness, gets talky when you want it to get funky.
But there is a scene that deserves comparison to the Samuel L. Jackson speech from Deep Blue Sea – the trashpile Mount Olympus – for sheer cathartic surprise schaudenfreude. Little surprises like that make Monday one of those movies that you used to rent on a lark from Blockbuster. With a movie like that, surprising not-badness is better than expected goodness. Does that sound like faint praise? I miss those surprisingly not-bad Blockbuster movies. To quote the great critic Homer Simpson, I’m afraid this gets my lowest rating ever: Seven thumbs up. B–