“I Am Mother” skillfully achieves its ambitious aims

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Photo courtesy of Netflix Studios

When you  need a break from academic work but still want to stimulate that slightly pretentious part of your brain that fancies itself an intellectual (as many UD students do), a great little 2019 Netflix film to check out is writer/director Grant Sputore’s “I Am Mother.” 

“I Am Mother” picks up its story in a very far-off future. The camera crawls through the halls of a facility that is shaken by distant explosions, and the audience learns that this is the day that humanity ceases to exist, almost. 

The camera patiently creeps through the futuristic facility and into a room where systems blink to life and an android is assembled and activated by an automated system. 

This android then enters a chamber filled with thousands of human embryos and prepares to save the human race by artificially gestating each embryo. The scene cuts and the audience then sees the android pick up the baby, the last of the human race, and lulls her to sleep.

The audience is then treated to a well-edited montage of the baby’s growth into a young woman, which is quite telling to the detail-oriented viewer. 

Apparently the facility was designed by humans as a last-ditch effort to save their species, should the need arise. Mother, the android (Rose Byrne), tells Daughter, the girl (Clara Rugaard), that all humans died from a dangerous pathogen that might still be present on the surface, which is why she can never go outside the facility. 

In this facility, Daughter is raised by Mother to be smart, skillful and ethical. Daughter knows everything from complex ballet to the most scrupulous details of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, even while she is far from entering her college years. 

Indeed, Mother’s education of Daughter is supposed to make her everything the other humans were not. Daughter will be a better human. 

However, when another human suddenly bangs on the airlock of the facility in the middle of the night and Daughter investigates, Daughter begins to suspect that Mother has not been as truthful or benevolent as she seemed. 

Sputore and writer Michael Lloyd Green find a way to tell a story that feels familiar in its trappings, yet stands apart from the now-crowded genre of sci-fi thrillers through its superb writing, smart direction and elevated performances.

“I Am Mother” succeeds on a tiny budget of a mere $5 million because of its incredibly tight and cohesive script. Green and Sputore help everything make sense in their story and leave little clues throughout the film that point to its finale. No cheap writing tricks, movie logic or rushed storyboarding went into making this film, which is well-served by its strong sense of intentionality. 

Green and Sputore don’t shy away from asking profound questions about human life, namely when it actually begins and what gives it value. They provide some answers sure to provoke earnest discussion. “I Am Mother” carries significant religious and pro-life themes in its script that are sure to stimulate the minds and hearts of many UDers. 

Everything that is in this film is there for a reason. “I Am Mother” is a great case of a movie where likely because of its tiny budget, the filmmakers were forced to be careful with how they constructed every scene. This, in turn, enhances the audience’s experience, as they can be active in figuring out the film’s mystery in each sequence. Nothing is simply, or stupidly, just “there” in this movie. 

“I Am Mother” is exceedingly well-edited for a film of its budgetary caliber. Sean Lahiff’s editing compleiments the succinct script and smooth direction found in this film.

Aside from cohesive script and smart scene construction and direction, “I Am Mother” largely succeeds due to a career-defining performance from Rugaard and the dedicated and chilling voicework of Byrne. Rugaard completely sells her role and brings the intrigue and empathy of the audience into the film. 

Byrne’s voicework emanating from the emotionless body of the android, which was brought to life by some great special effects work by the folks at Weta Workshop, is near-perfect. Always sounding calculated enough to arouse suspicion, while laden with much compelling emotion to dampen the audience’s anxieties, Byrne’s work skillfully keeps the viewer in a constant battle with themselves about Mother’s true nature. 

“I Am Mother” can sometimes feel suffocated by its numerous similarities to sci-fi cinematic titans like “The Terminator” or “Alien” films. Additionally, to those really paying attention and thinking things through, the film can show its cards a bit too soon in the game and lead viewers to revelations too early. 

Despite these, “I Am Mother” remains a great example of a film that began with nothing but a good idea, and only got better as the filmmakers were forced to do the best they could with what little they had. This film sets itself apart from the plethora of other dystopian sci-fi thrillers because of the immense integrity of its script, its smart direction, its seamless editing and the ability of its actors, making “I Am Mother” certainly worth your Saturday evening.

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