I Am Mother is a technically handsome, well-acted sci-fi film that struggles to fully develop all of its grand ideas for maximum impact.
Independent sci-fi film I Am Mother premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to positive reviews and is now available to stream on Netflix. It is the feature length debut from director Grant Sputore, who previously helmed the short film Legacy and four episodes of the TV series Castaway. As far as first films go, I Am Mother has high ambitions, taking multiple cues from genre legends such as Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron. It doesn't quite hit all its marks, but the final product still makes for a fascinating watch. I Am Mother is a technically handsome, well-acted sci-fi film that struggles to fully develop all of its grand ideas for maximum impact.
In I Am Mother, humanity has gone extinct after a mysterious event, triggering the awakening of a robot known as Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne; physical performance by Luke Hawker). Mother's mission is to repopulate the Earth with thousands of human embryos secured in a facility, and she tries to perfect her parenting style by raising a single girl, referred to only as Daughter (Clara Rugaard). The earliest scenes in I Am Mother work to establish the unique bond these two individuals have, putting a fresh spin on the child/parent dynamic. In a film that's mostly bleak and dark sci-fi, scenes of Mother raising the child Daughter have a sweet sentiment attached to them, allowing viewers to get invested in their relationship.
The film's story kicks into high gear when Daughter is now a teenager, curious to see what's beyond the walls of the only home she's known. It's here where the shortcomings of the narrative begin to rear their head a bit. Sputore, who also penned the script, is somewhat guilty of revealing his hand too early, and there are some issues with the way Daughter is written. For the most part, she is a typical movie teenager who's becoming bored with her current state of existence and rebels against authority figures. Daughter's youth had the potential to be highly interesting, since she was raised by a robot and her only interactions with other humans come from watching old clips of The Tonight Show, but the screenplay never truly runs with this idea. To be fair, Rugaard delivers a solid performance as Daughter, and makes the most of the material given to her.
Where I Am Mother really shines is in the technical aspects. Sputore stretches his budget as far as it will go, with assists from production designer Hugh Bateup and cinematographer Steve Annis (among others). Obviously, the film doesn't boast the same caliber of visuals as the more expensive studio tentpoles, but I Am Mother looks great onscreen. The effects, particularly on the Mother character, are very impressive and indicate Sputore may be the next smalltime director to get a call up to the big leagues and take a stab at a blockbuster. Unsurprisingly for a first-time feature director, he wears his influences on his sleeve, but it thankfully never feels all that derivative. I Am Mother demonstrates Sputore is willing to commit to ambitious ideas, and he'll likely fine-tune his craft as his career progresses.
Given the confines of the story, I Am Mother's cast is not that extensive. Outside of Rugaard, the other primary roles are Byrne as Mother and Hillary Swank as a mysterious woman who appears in front of the compound. The latter channels a James Cameron-esque broken survivor, lending much-needed gravitas to a part that doesn't have much screen time. The former does a nice job of voicing the robot, making her seem human in certain moments (particularly when she's caring for Daughter), but never losing sight of the fact this is an A.I. who may not be everything "she" seems like at the outset. In all likelihood, neither is going to go down as the next great example of their genre trope, but they serve their roles fine here.
In the end, I Am Mother is a solid addition to the Netflix Original Films canon and worth checking out for those interested in heady sci-fi concepts. The story may not be as fully-realized as it could have been (and there is an over-reliance on twists in the third act that don't land with the intended effect), but it still makes for an interesting watch. The streaming service is definitely the ideal platform for a movie like this, giving Sputore the leeway to carve out his filmmaking voice and avoiding the competition of the summer movie season theatrically. It's certainly different than most of the films currently playing, which may make it a refreshing option.
I Am Mother is now streaming on Netflix. It runs 115 minutes and is rated TV-14.
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