Synopsis – In a world where families are limited to one child due to overpopulation, a set of identical septuplets must avoid being put to a long sleep by the government and dangerous infighting while investigating the disappearance of one of their own.
My Take – In a summer where female lead action films like Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde have struck a chord with the audience, a Netflix Original starring Noomi Rapace set in a post-apocalyptic/futuristic dystopian world seems like the right film to release. While, Netflix continues to be the place for some of the best TV series, they have yet to really find their groove in the film game, with an interesting mix of films like War Machine, To the Bone, The Incredible Jessica James, and Okja released recently, it seems the streaming service has finally begun to take steps in the right direction with the exclusive release of this Tommy Wirkola directed film, which for some reason has been released under the title Seven Sisters theatrically in some countries (including U.A.E). Set within the tradition of great films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Equilibrium, and Children of Men, this film also evokes a rare dystopian future with an intriguing premise for a psychological thriller, making one wish that only if filmmakers could abandon their attempts at half-baked social commentaries on our possible future & just embrace silly yet fun concepts. Thankfully, this film is exciting to watch, if not somewhat predictable in nature, plus, it’s fun to watch Noomi Rapace act against herself seven times over and her game performances in the midst of fast-paced action make this film quite an enjoyable thriller. The story follows a bunch of septuplets (Noomi Rapace) in a future where earth’s population has grown drastically leading to a shortage of food resources. Many years ago, Dr. Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close) came up with a plan! By founding the Child Allocation Bureau (CAB) she imposes that every parent is allowed to have one child only.
Replacing the whole system with an arm wrist band, which allows you to pay, to phone, to connect with anybody and of course secure your identity. Unhappy with the situation, many parents with twins, triplets etc. go into hiding, until CAB captures these children and promise to put them into a frozen sleep until the world is in a better shape. Elsewhere, Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe) finds himself in a rather precarious position with the birth of septuplets, granddaughters, whose mother dies during labor. Naming them after each day of the week, he makes the dangerous decision of taking them all in to his care, raising them in secret, and taking all necessary precautions to ensure that they live in secret. When the girls have grown to an age where he feels comfortable, and confident that they are aware of the dangers of the outside world, and the consequences of anything that could mean the secret being uncovered, he allows each girl to go out on the day after which they were named, i.e.; Monday on Monday, Tuesday on Tuesday, and so on, and so forth. The girls each live their day outside as Karen Settman, the name of their mother. As is the case with any group of children, the girls exhibit an array of personality traits from shy and demure to outgoing and rebellious, with the rebel of the seven causing a uncomfortable, and lasting, consequence for the other six siblings when she goes out on a day that she was not designated to do so, and suffers a painful injury. Fast forward some 30 years we find that the girls have grown to adulthood successfully in secret, and while inside they exhibit their own personalities, do their own thing, and keep their own interests, they work very well together maintaining the life of Karen Settman out in the world. This is largely down to nightly debriefings from the one who went out that day, so that the others are aware of their role to maintain their cover. This all works perfectly until Monday doesn’t come home from work, leaving her sisters extremely worried about what could have happened to her, and Tuesday going blind to what is waiting for her outside, with no knowledge of the previous days happenings. It is now up to Tuesday and her sisters to figure out what happened to Monday. Although there are no clones, the premise can’t help but be compared to fan favorite BBC America show Orphan Black and much like Tatiana Maslany, Rapace absolutely has the chops to pull off the multiple characters. But really the similarities end there, because this film is an unforgiving and surprisingly brutal action flick. The thing I love most about this film is its concept, it’s what I love about the genre in general, as a dystopian future story can lend itself to anything that can cause a dystopia to happen, over population causing implementation of restricted breeding, or emotions being banned so that people don’t fight, and cause war. To date I have been the biggest fan of Wirkola’s past films, which are all bloody genre films (the Dead Snow films and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), the big difference is that it’s less bloody and, more importantly, he’s working from someone else’s script. Whereas those films are a bunch of excellent one-time watches, this one has more to hang its hat on. The film wisely moves too quickly for the viewer to focus too hard on any one of the plot holes and gets a surprising amount of mileage from its silly premise. One wishes they had resisted the obvious instinct towards a totalizing conspiracy and instead just explored the dynamics between the sisters at greater depth, but a typical dystopian future deserves a typical ending.
The film largely abandons its attempts at social relevance and just embraces the fun of playing around with seven different Noomi Rapaces. At first, the sisters are hard to tell apart by anything but haircuts, but Rapace does a surprisingly good job of establishing different personalities for the sisters, even while constantly running from government thugs. The film is most successful when it plumbs the psychological novelty of the situation. The sisters have developed into unique, wildly varying personalities, almost solely in relation to one another, yet once a week they must subsume those differences in favor of the shared identity of Karen Settman. But the sisters soon learn that the missing Monday, the most “ordinary” of the group who wore the mantle of Karen Settman most easily, had been leading a secret life, including a lover and behind the scenes maneuvering at work. Seeing that Monday has exercised agency that the other sisters have never known, the others both question their individual choices and band together as a team to reclaim their lifelong creation of Karen Settman, using both their similarities and differences. What also impressed me about this film, is the way in which the seven different characters were juxtaposed in the scenes they were together in. In no way was this done cheaply, or nasty, and definitely did not come off cheesy. The film’s most astute choice is using spy film tropes to create tension. The Settman siblings are skilled escapists and infiltrators, and watching them improvise in desperation with the few opportunities they have is quite thrilling. The action scenes are well directed and move at a handsome pace, even if they don’t have a lot of variation when it comes to locations, aesthetics and threats to overcome. Unfortunately, there are a few extremely dumb moments that are treated so seriously they feel like they’re challenging you to not groan at your screen. Having said that, it is a credit to the script and Noomi Rapace that I was swept up by the action and really enjoyed the film. There are some obvious twists but also some I didn’t see coming. There are some convenient plot mechanisms that didn’t make much sense but I didn’t care, it was entertaining regardless. While the film is a pleasant blast of well-choreographed, intense action, not everything is perfect. There are plenty of unintentionally silly moments like the naming of the sisters and the heady sci-fi themes and backdrops are nothing more than window dressing and never get thoroughly explored. Plus, even though we’re dealing with seven protagonists, only four of them are actually developed. We’re given some hints about their motivations and lifestyles, but the non-stop nature of the plot doesn’t allow a lot of time for deep dives into their mindsets. This shouldn’t be a nuisance in a film that lasts for just 123 minutes. We all known by now that Noomi Rapace is a fearless actress, her films, one by one, showcasing her commitment and range with a long list of acclaimed performances. Here, as mentioned above, is entirely Noomi Rapace‘s show and she acquits herself well, both as a credible action star and as an actress capably showing the messy group dynamic of the mostly shut-in sisters. This is the most fun Rapace has ever been, thanks to the fairly bizarre premise. She does a good job giving each sister unique and contrasting personalities. Rapace subtly changes her voice–through tone, pacing, and accents–for each of the characters, which plays into the character’s strengths and weaknesses: one is harsh and angry because of past trauma, one is quiet and passive because of her insecurities, etc. While, at first, these characters all seem like the same person, Rapace’s performance ultimately sets them apart. The only aggravating part about all of this is trying to figure out who is who, as the film never provides the name for each character, which would have saved everyone a whole lot of time and frustration. The film also has some good support in the form of Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close. Dafoe is terrific as the loving, yet will stop at nothing grandfather to the sisters that will go to some truly terrible places to protect them. The actor is tender with the young actress in his flashback-only scenes, yet still stern and scary when he needs it. Glenn Close is excellent with her own dark secret she is trying to protect. The legendary actress isn’t given a whole lot to do other than menacingly track the sisters while charming the public, but she is able to flex her considerable acting skills in the climax of the film. Marwan Kenzari also gets to shine in the final act of the film. On the whole, ‘What Happened to Monday’ aka ‘Seven Sisters’ is a fun, clunky, fascinating and silly dystopian action thriller with a truly stellar performance from Noomi Rapace.
Directed – Tommy Wirkola
Rated – R
Run Time – 123 minutes