Back in 2007, Will Smith starred in this largely isolationist film I Am Legend. A plague wiped out humanity and Smith’s character had grown accustomed to a solitary lifestyle. The film was very compelling until an uneven final act derailed it. The Netflix original film I Am Mother explores similar topics, but sticks the landing to make for an unpredictable and engaging sci-fi thriller right to the end.
Pesky humanity has made a mess of things again and caused a catastrophic event that leaves Earth a wasteland. Awakened in the event of such a cataclysmic occasion is Mother, a robot that retrieves one of thousands of embryos and raises her as her daughter.
With no real rush to restore humanity, Mother slowly nurtures her now teen Daughter (Clara Rugaard). There’s some fun scenes early on that play out similar to other coming of age teen dramas, which seems all the more bizarre given the setting.
But like most teenagers, Daughter is starting to question the status quo like when her other “brothers and sisters” can be retrieved. I Am Mother arrives at an interesting time with abortion laws creating a lot of conversation about pro-life and pro-choice. Screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green doesn’t seem to take sides on the debate, but I am curious how some of these scenes would have played out if the screenwriter were a woman.
Just as Daughter starts getting bored with her routine life things get shaken up when an unnamed woman (Hilary Swank) arrives seeking assistance. The Woman isn’t thrilled to see Mother and tells daughter that humanity got wiped out by robots. While that might be the case for some robots, is Mother really the same despite her sterner line of questioning regarding any fellow survivors? But can Daughter count on the Woman’s account of things as there’s some holes in her story as well?
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Thanks to the soothing vocal performance of Rose Byrne (Insidious: The Last Key) and the methodical without being menacing movements of Luke Hawker, Mother never feels especially threatening. That’s key as Green sets up the mystery of who Daughter can trust. Neither Mother or the Woman seem to completely on the up and up with each one casting new doubts on the other’s trustworthiness.
Any of Daughter’s poor decision making can be attributed to her being a teen that’s not used to being manipulated and lied to by someone she had no reason to question. Some of Daughter’s early actions seem geared to progress the story without fully taking into account why she would go against the established safety protocol.
Rugaard delivers a solid performance as the glue holding the film together as the curiously rebellious teen realizing she has to start making her own decisions. Just shy of two hours, the film comes close to wearing out its welcome, but a twist-filled final act gets everything back on track for a satisfying ending.
Director Grant Sputore establishes an eerie tone fairly early on with a round robin game of who can you trust. Mother and Woman come off like unreliable narrators, but both claim to have Daughter’s best interest at heart.
It would have been easy to play Mother up as the villain with her cold, emotionless expression, but there’s a surprising amount of humanity to the character. Swank plays up the wilder, rougher side of her character making Woman seem unappreciative and suspicious.
Sputore creates a vibe similar to Ex Machina, a brilliant film where an artificial intelligence came between two human characters. I Am Mother takes a slightly different approach with the motherhood theme, but works just as well. This is Sputore’s feature film debut and with this impressive initial outing, I’m very interested in seeing what he’ll tackle next.
I Am Mother is one of those bonus Netflix films as it really should have gotten a theatrical run. Theaters could use more challenging and less predictable sci-fi films that aren’t connected to a major franchise these days.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix