Film * Tommy Wirkola * Overpopacalypse * 2017
What Happened to Monday is a concept movie, which pretty much means the film lives or dies by the execution of said concept. The good news is, I think the concept is pretty cool. The movie imagines an overpopulated world, which is not exactly a stretch. The film begins with the time-tested montage of various news clips smooshed together to let us all know about the state of the world. There’s too many people, you see, and they’re ruining everything. In order to combat this, Glenn Close, who is definitely in charge of something, institutes a one-child policy throughout the EU (this, despite a few higher-profile American actors, is a very Euro movie). Of course, this policy has been instituted in modern history before, but there’s a sci-fi twist here. Instead of China’s program, which enforced their program by both onerous fines and forced sterilization/contraception, What Happened to Monday envisions a one-child program that’s enforced in what is presented as a more humane way. Any family with more than one child is in violation, and has the sibling forcibly removed and cryogenically frozen until such a time that the overpopulation crisis has passed. Easy peasy!
That’s part one of the concept. What Happened to Monday is essentially a dystopian future in which the oppressive state power is represented by the Child Allocation Bureau. You’ve got the same military checkpoints that are common in this kind of world, and everyone has the same surveillance-state software encoded literally in the palms of their hands. The only bit of dystopian flavor here is that the repressive power of the state only seems interested in how many kids you have. More than one? The offending sibling gets shoved into a truck and taken to the citadel of power where they are frozen and filed.
Part two is where our story comes from. A lady has seven kids. She dies. The grandfather of these kids would like to raise them in secret, and so he does. His ingenious plan of sneaking beneath the radar of the Child Allocation Bureau is to only allow one child out of the house at a time. Since they’re all identical, that shouldn’t be a problem. And, except for a couple wrinkles, it isn’t. What Happened to Monday begins thirty years after the initial application of the whole Child Allocation thing. Anyway, the seven kids are all handily named after the days of the week, each name corresponding to the day of the week they get to leave the house. Throughout their entire life, each of the seven kids have been playing the role of Karen Settman. They went to school as Karen, they got a job as Karen, they’ve avoided relationships as Karen. The rest of the time, they hang out at home, cooped up in a not-very-large apartment with their six adult sisters. Sounds like a great life.
I’m not going to get into specifics above the break, but remember how I said up top that concept movies live or die by the execution of their concept? Well, What Happened to Monday doesn’t execute the concept particularly well. I’m not going to say I hated the movie, because it wasn’t a disaster. It’s just that the concepts here need a lot of work to be even remotely believable, and that work isn’t done. Simple questions unravel the entire thing, and even worse, the movie’s big-reveal ending is obvious pretty much right away. Now, the film isn’t an entire waste of time, and here are the saving graces. First and foremost, Noomi Rapace is extremely fun to watch. She’s basically doing the Orphan Black thing by playing seven different people at the same time, and it’s impressive. The only issue here is, since this is a movie and not a series, Rapace doesn’t really have the time to flesh out the personalities of the seven siblings. They’re all relatively flat characters. That’s mostly fine, since this turns out to be a rather grisly action flick most of the time, which of course saves the movie from being too tedious. Okay, now I’m gonna ruin it.
As I said above, What Happened to Monday’s concepts are generally undone by a few simple questions, which I’m going to ask here. The first question is common to any kind of dystopian fiction, which is answered by storytellers maybe half the time. That is to say, what’s happening in the rest of the world if this overpopulation thing is such a disaster? Follow up to that, why would sovereign national governments hand over so much power to a single, multinational agency? Follow up to that, why would the director of this singly powerful agency desire or need to advance to another leadership position? The Child Allocation Bureau is shown as pretty much the sole power in this society. They have the same kind of lethal, unlimited power as any totalitarian secret police. The populace mostly seems to accept this, and no resistance movement of any kind is depicted. This begs another similar question.
What is the nature of this society, then? The Child Allocation Bureau seemingly has unlimited martial power over the citizens, yet there still seems to be freedom of movement and press? Considering how the movie ends, Glenn Close’s character appears to be vulnerable to external pressures, yet none of those are shown up until she is undone. It’s clear that What Happened to Monday is only really focused on the one-kid thing, but it’s just as clear that the agency is all-powerful. Such power is not toppled by a single grainy video. Now, the montage at the beginning states that the world is in serious trouble, but none of those effects are really seen throughout the movie. Nothing in this nameless Euro city seems all that dire. There’s a few shots of the underclass here and there, but nobody is particularly interested in them. Most of this is just down to poor world building. No care was given to the details of this world, and as a result the dystopia feels lifeless rather than oppressive.
Then there’s the issue with the seven siblings. Seeing how much trouble they have with the one day of normalcy we get so the film can establish a baseline, I have a hard time believing this crew can keep it together for thirty years. Well, there’s that one time the rebel sister skateboarded her finger off (which, how? Also, gah!) so grandpa had to chop off six more little girl fingers, but other than that, no problem! The ruse is flimsy at best, and that it only comes undone when one of the sisters sells out the other six is not only unlikely, but undermines the menace of the dystopia. And look, I’m happy to suspend my disbelief if the story helps me out, but What Happened to Monday just doesn’t take the time to do the work. If the state is routinely and easily fooled, they’re automatically less menacing. It’s like, yeah, your converted Aerostars are super scary but apparently all I need is a wig and I’m safe.
Towards the end of the movie, there are two big reveals, neither of which are terribly surprising. The first is that the Child Allocation Bureau isn’t actually freezing kids for the future, they just kill them. Like any self-respecting dystopian state would! If that surprised you, I will assume you either spent most of the movie scrolling Twitter or that this is your first piece of dystopian fiction. Of course they were murdering siblings. I thought that was implied from the beginning, and that it was one of those totalitarian lies that nobody actually believes. Apparently not, because one cell phone video was enough to upend the entire monolithic, all-powerful Child Allocation Bureau. The other big reveal is that Monday is a lying, murderous, traitor. She sells out the other siblings, which leads to the death of most of them, so she can be the “real” Karen. This plan fails spectacularly, but it’s hard to care too much. This is because there is no primary sibling to get invested in. I guess the short-haired “fuck up” sister? Because she lives? Again, there is next to zero time spent actually developing character. And it’s a shame, because with a little more care and detail, the world could have been something special. As it stands, What Happened to Monday is yet another in a long line of mildly entertaining, mediocre dystopian fiction.