Review: I Am Mother (2019)

Grant Sputore’s debut, I Am Mother, sits comfortably in a category of understated science fiction. This is a story of a girl being raised by a robot after humanity is wiped out, our species’ last hope to continue on. This is brought into question when another woman arrives, in desperate need of medical attention.

Tonally comparable films such as the works of Alex Garland offer an extra edge over I Am Mother; the film looks nice enough, especially the design of the robot, but it’s clearly a low budget work that doesn’t carry the technical craft necessary to suggest a bigger picture. Mix this with a slowly building plot, and I Am Mother fails to build up a convincingly heavy atmosphere. The best movies in this style are quickly overwhelming, and while this film offers plenty of twists, it rarely earns them.

I Am Mother spends more time trying to surprise us than actually building the world. It can be effectively disorienting, but it’s too straightforward in its presentation to have a wider effect; it’s quiet but not quiet enough, not leaning hard enough into the style to do anything unique. Many moments still manage to land, but it’s easy to see where things could have been improved with a bit more care.

Despite its focus on twists and turns, it never does anything too surprising; these are familiar tropes. Most serve to confuse the young girl, who must choose between her robotic mother and this unknown outsider; but our understanding of all three is rather limited. It becomes a simple game of guessing who is telling the truth, and the mere presence of an outsider reveals Mother as a liar. The girl naturally carries some hesitation, having been raised by this machine, but it’s much easier to see the truth as an outsider.

Despite its familiarity and tonal flaws, I see something of value in the overall product; matching the skills of Garland is a difficult task, but the fact that the film got me to think of it in that language suggests it was doing something right.

Most credit goes to the three women at the heart of the movie; Hilary Swank plays the paranoid survivor well, while Clara Rugaard really captures an ignorant but intelligent teenager. Rose Byrne lends a calming element to the otherwise inhuman Mother. The visual design here drops the usual sleekness for something bulkier, reminding us that this is merely an advanced computer, down to the ventilation holes. Byrne’s voice is the one human element, but it goes a long way in convincing us that the young girl finds comfort in her presence.

Ultimately, I Am Mother is a flawed but intriguing thriller; it’s not going to be anyone’s favorite, but anyone who enjoys this kind of quiet sci-fi should get something out of it.

3 Stars Out of 5

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