As a fan of contained and intimately crafted science fiction stories, I was enthralled by Grant Sputore’s unique examination of the human condition and morality in I Am Mother, his stunning feature film debut. Evoking similar feelings I had while watching films like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Moon, Ex Machina (and in some ways, even The Terminator), I Am Mother strikes a perfect balance, delivering up an intriguing slice of post-apocalyptic sci-fi coupled with a thoughtful character study that finds new ways to explore the dangers of technology and how it relates to all of humanity as we continue to transition towards greater leaps in automation and electronic sciences.
I Am Mother introduces us to a world where there has been a cataclysmic event that has wiped out all of humanity. Inside a remote bunker, a highly evolved robot named Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne and performed by Luke Hawker) has been tasked with bringing new life into the world via a massive embryo bank inside the bunker. Mother “gives birth” to a baby girl, who eventually grows up into the intuitive Daughter (Clara Rugaard), and as the teenager turns 18, a mysterious woman (Hilary Swank) shows up at the bunker out of nowhere, forcing Daughter to question everything she’s been taught by Mother and has spent her entire life believing about the outside world. With the arrival of this outside presence, Mother becomes suspicious that this woman’s influence will cause a rift with Daughter, threatening their safety and everything they’ve built together over the years.
When it comes to exploring the sometimes volatile relationships that mothers can share with their teenaged daughters, I Am Mother gets it right, which is pretty remarkable considering this is a story about the shared connection between an android and a human being. As Daughter gets older, she’s tested in a variety of ways—some purely academic challenges, some ethical—as a way for Mother to gauge her progeny’s progress as she inches closer to adulthood. The interesting thing is that, generally, in most cases, this would mean that the child would be preparing to blaze their own path into a brave new world, but considering that our planet is now a wasteland of nothingness, what exactly does the future hold for Daughter? What has Mother been priming her for throughout her life?
When Swank’s character arrives, it causes huge ripples of emotion in Daughter, as she realizes that Mother has lied to her for her entire life, and while Rugaard’s character still loves the robot who raised her, she finds herself conflicted, as she realizes that the arrival of this woman means that there still is the potential for human connection in the world, as Daughter wants nothing more than to have a real family. And that’s when things get increasingly complicated in I Am Mother, and Daughter is forced to decide between the world she has always known and the terrifying world that awaits her outside.
While the film does start off slow and steady, once I Am Mother hits its third act, everything really begins to amp up and Sputore pulls back the curtain a bit, revealing the game that has been afoot for the entirety of his story, and I was very impressed with how he managed to put a few twists on some tropes that we’ve come to expect from projects of this ilk. The performances from both Rugaard and Swank are just fantastic, representing two very different ends of the human spectrum (Daughter being pure and untouched by the horrors of the world, Woman being someone driven by desperation and fear). There’s an interesting dichotomy that Sputore explores between these characters and I really thought there was some great character work from both actresses.
Something else that makes I Am Mother a standout is the film’s production design (it can be so hard to make a one-locale movie feel visually arresting for its entirety, but I Am Mother never suffers from any sort of visual malaise), and the fact that Sputore utilizes a performer inside the robotic suit for Mother, which adds so much to the overall film. Even though it’s a mechanized character, there are hints to Mother that almost make her feel human, and I loved that.
As a whole, I think Sputore, his cast, and writer Michael Lloyd Green have created something very special with I Am Mother, and I am excited to see what happens with this film in the future. It’s definitely something you want to experience on a big screen, so I do hope sci-fi fans get that chance once the film gets picked up for distribution.
Movie Score: 4/5
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[Image credit: Above image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.]