Director: Grant Sputore
Writer: Michael Lloyd Green
Producer: Timothy White, Kelvin Munro
Stars: Clara Rugaard, Luke Hawker, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank
Years after an extinction event wipes out humanity, a young girl raised by a droid comes to question what really happened when a woman unexpectedly arrives at their underground compound.
13,867 days ago, which is a curious clue you shouldn’t do the math on if you want one spoiler to remain secret, an extinction event decimated humanity. In a secure facility beneath a mountain, an A.I. called ‘Mother’ immediately began a preprogrammed effort to repopulate the planet by incubating embryos one at a time.
‘Daughter’ is now a teenager. Mother raised the girl to have intellect and morality higher than previous humans. The droid also raised Daughter to believe mankind destroyed itself while turning the outside world into an uninhabitable wasteland.
Beliefs begin back-flipping when a wounded ‘Woman’ unexpectedly arrives at the airlock. Daughter isn’t only astonished to meet a survivor she was told didn’t exist. Woman claims she was shot be a droid just like Mother, and robots are what really destroyed the human race. With Mother on one end and Woman at the other, Daughter becomes a knot in a tug-o-war over the truth, as well as dueling agendas regarding Daughter’s purpose.
I just recapped in two minutes what “I Am Mother” takes 60 to set up, which speaks to the root of the movie’s overwhelming issue with problematic pacing.
Daughter gains pinches of insight into the world that once was by watching “The Tonight Show” clips from the 1980s. Amusingly, this brings to mind a Johnny Carson joke delivered when he hosted the 1979 Oscars. Carson quipped, “this is the 51st annual Academy Awards: Two hours of sparkling entertainment spread out over a four-hour show.”
That sums up “I Am Mother.” Robots are untrustworthy. Humans are resilient. Yada, yada, yada. Except instead of “yada, yada, yada,” “I Am Mother” gorges on nearly 115 taffy-pulled minutes treading ‘A.I. amok’ ground superior sci-fi has raced over countless times before.
Suspense should come from a subterfuge seesaw between ideas Mother lights inside Daughter’s head and what Woman suggests to extinguish them. But the audience never really ends up waiting to find out whose side of the story sits on the up and up. We’re waiting for Daughter to realize what decades of cautionary science-fiction has previously taught us. Artificial intelligence in darkly dystopian thrillers always turns out to be “evil.” “I Am Mother” is Exhibit ZZZ, incidentally identical to the letters appearing over a disinterested head snoring through the story’s sluggishness.
Absent true psychological tension, we’re left to look for entertainment in production design and performances. Here at least, “I Am Mother” offers more scrap for salvage.
The sterile facility where “I Am Mother” takes place impressively plays the part of a coldly clinical location. At the same time, its uninviting grayness alienates investment from the viewer, reflecting a tempered tempo by being visually monotone.
Mother hits higher marks for effective design. Portrayed by a practical suit, Mother’s physicality appears exactly as intended: vaguely humanlike, yet retaining a piston-powered stiffness reflective of robotic origins.
Being an isolated teen raised by a robot, characterization constricts how much charisma Clara Rugaard can bring to her role. Daughter’s inquisitive dauntlessness still defines her, and Rugaard manages to make her into as much of a typical teen as is realistic for the film. She’s strong. She’s sympathetic. She’s also short of developing into a personality whose expressions, thoughts, and conflicts exist outside of what singular scenes demand. With water now touching her toes, Rugaard’s untapped talent should bloom even bigger when challenged with less conventional material in her future.
Hilary Swank follows similar suit as Woman. She’s grim. She’s gritty. She’s also trapped between those two not dissimilar tones. The fiction’s flow wants Woman to war with the robot as an alternate option for mothering Daughter. However, moments where Woman willingly drops her guard around Daughter only eke out dry drops of fleeting warmth. Swank otherwise keeps two arms length between them, erecting an impenetrable impediment to building a bond that can engineer endearment.
With Rose Byrne providing the mouth and Luke Hawker supplying the movements, Mother surprisingly emerges as the most multi-faceted body in the bunch. She’s clever. She’s convincing. She regularly reads as unreadable. Mother would work as an “is she or isn’t she?” character if Michael Lloyd Green’s script contained creative conundrums permitting more than one conspiracy to be a possibility. Unfortunately, the ultimate outcome always remains obvious.
“I Am Mother’s” dulled DNA forces momentum to fight against it from the outset. Two hours is too long for two people and one robot to troll around a subterranean chamber under an illusion of intrigue a predictable plot can’t back. An overlong take on overdone themes, “I Am Mother” will only be relevant for however long Netflix keeps it current on their main menu. After that, memories of the movie will be designated for extinction.
Review Score: 45