Director: Grant Sputore
Cast: Hilary Swank, Rose Byrne, Clara Rugaard
Watch I Am Mother online in the UK: Netflix UK
It’s fair to say the quality of Netflix’s sci-fi output has been inconsistent in recent years. Annihilation and Black Mirror have showcased gripping, intelligent storytelling, pushing the boundaries of the genre, whereas The Cloverfield Paradox proved a muddled misfire. Thankfully, with I Am Mother, Netflix has found itself a solid, well-rounded entry in the science fiction canon. While it may not be anything ground-breaking, I Am Mother delivers an intriguing narrative buoyed by shrewd direction and a trio of compelling performances from its female leads.
I Am Mother opens on the contained setting where much of the action will take place: a repopulation facility housed in an automated bunker. While an extinction event is underway in the outside world, a resident robot called Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne, performed by Luke Hawker) selects an embryo from a collection of 63,000 and cooks up a fully-formed baby in a matter of minutes. The next 13,867 days see Mother care for, comfort and teach this child, named Daughter (Rugaard), inside the four walls of the bunker. This lengthy time jump is conveyed in an exquisitely edited opening montage, which adroitly illustrates the pair’s unique, complex and tightly-knit bond. It’s not until Daughter’s teenage years that this bond is tested, when her curiosity spikes about life outside the bunker. When a mysterious stranger, referred to only as Woman (Swank), arrives on the scene, Daughter begins to question the motivations behind all of Mother’s actions.
Much of the tension is driven by the uncertainty over who should be trusted. Is Woman leading Daughter astray or does Mother have truly malicious intentions? This premise provides suspense, but the film shows its cards a little too soon and the second half suffers from some pacing issues. There is enough on the film’s mind, though, to keep you invested and it weaves together thought-provoking themes of motherhood, technology, sacrifice and morality with aplomb.
Although I Am Mother is clearly indebted to several other films (it sometimes feels like 10 Cloverfield Lane by way of Room and Ex Machina), it’s still an ambitious debut film from director Grant Sputore. The world-building is fully-realised and elegantly achieved without revealing too much of the outside. A lot is accomplished on a relatively low budget, with a superb mix of practical and special effects helping to construct a memorable post-apocalyptic vision. It’s an impressive first feature that is sure to get Sputore noticed.
The movie is elevated by three fantastic female performances at the film’s core. Danish newcomer Rugaard puts in an incredibly layered, mature turn that perfectly captures the growing doubt and suspicion inside this sheltered teenager. It’s also great to see Swank in a meaty, leading role once again and she delivers with an intense, suitably fierce performance. Lastly, Byrne’s vocals are multi-faceted and exceptionally delivered – one minute she’s calm, warm, and maternal, the next threatening, menacing and unnerving. Through subtle changes in tone and inflection, she portrays a whole spectrum of moods. Supported by these sparkling performances, Sputore gets a lot of mileage from his intimate premise; he’s crafted an engaging, intelligent sci-fi thriller.
I Am Mother is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.