Starring Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank, Luke Hawker
4.5 STARS (out of 5)
Sometimes, it’s nice to see a bit of genuine sci-fi on the big screen. Too much of the genre is muddled with good guys and bad guys, plot twists and big-budget explosions – which is why, when we get something that makes us think, rather than something that makes us marvel, it’s all the more surprising. Netflix’s latest movie acquisition, I Am Mother, seems worthy of the hype it’s getting (and let’s face it, Netflix Originals have a habit of getting a good amount of buzz – even when they’re terrible).
Following an apocalyptic event, a robot known as ‘Mother’ (voice of Byrne, performance of Hawker) prepares to start raising the human race from scratch again. In a mysterious bunker and facility in the middle of nowhere, Mother takes one of thousands of preserved embryos and raises it as her own, calling her Daughter. As she raises Daughter (Rugaard) over 20-or-so years, the girl wonders what the rest of her species were really like – when they were alive. One fateful evening, she finds out more than she’d ever wished for – as a mysterious, armed stranger (Swank) arrives at the front door. From here, Daughter must decide whether to trust Mother, or the stranger – is it safe to go outside? Who’s telling the truth?
I Am Mother (Netflix)
First of all, I have to say that this is a movie with a brilliant amount of focus. It’s got a core story in mind, it’s very well-realised, and as a result, it’s really satisfying to watch. If anything, it’s probably a little too thick to wade through at times, but I’ll get to that later. There’s a rich, pervasive sense of mystery and intrigue here which is sold through great acting and a fine balance of exposition and visual clues. This is classic science fiction – it’s less about the gadgetry, and more about the politics of an impossible situation.
The sound design, the score and the overall look of the film really help to sell the futuristic dirge. Daughter’s home is presented as safe and clinical, but there are still odd touches here and there which suggest you may have to think otherwise. There is an amazing atmosphere of foreboding throughout, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen since Arrival. While I Am Mother gets within a whisker of that movie’s level of intrigue and delivery, it is still compelling viewing.
The best aspects of the movie centre around the main question, which is posed at around the second act. Who is the antagonist? Is it Mother, who has raised and protected Daughter as her own, but who may not have been truthful about the world outside, or is it the stranger, who is keen (verging on desperate) to convince Daughter that Mother is part of a bigger, more sinister reality? You’re kept guessing a fair amount all the way through. It’s a great dynamic, though many sci-fi aficionados will work out the bigger twists early on. Even so, the build-up is admirable.
I Am Mother - Official Trailer (Netflix)
The script could have done with a little tweaking for it to achieve amazing results – but not much. The twists waiting in the wings could have been signposted a little less obviously, and at times, the pacing is unashamedly plodding. This is a story with tons of big ideas and a very intense concept – and the movie does like to wallow in it. We could have been better distracted by smaller elements of this story world, or foreshadowing could have been written a little more succinctly.
In any case, it’s a Hollywood rarity in that I Am Mother is a sci-fi movie with a satisfying pay-off. It may not be the ending everyone watching will want, but the final ten minutes are gloriously intense, and the big reveals still land with a real sledgehammer – whether you’ve seen them coming or not. Truth be told, you’re never quite sure what sort of film you’re watching throughout. Are you watching an action movie? A sci-fi adventure? A psychological horror? By the time the final twists are unravelled, you know for certain. And it’s very satisfying – one of my favourite endings of recent times, in fact.
Yes, there are some loose threads, and yes, there are plenty of questions. This is a story which maybe could have worked better as part of a bigger series, as the world it’s built up by the end is absolutely fascinating. There’s room for a sequel – there’s room for a saga! Whether or not these will occur, and if we will simply be left to imagine what’s on the cards next, who knows.
In any case, Netflix’s latest viral movie is one which is well-deserving of hype. It’s a very satisfying piece of science fiction – one which passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours – and I can’t wait to see more of the same in the months to come.