by Ian Morton
Unfortunately for Netflix, original movies are not their forte. While there are a many added each month, very few live up to the weighty expectation the streaming behemoth often drums up on social media ahead of release. With each feature sold on the premise of big names attached rather than viewer recommendation, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of despair when the latest push notification springs up to tell you what’s ‘new this week’.
While all genres have taken a hit at some point, sci-fi in recent years has taken a complete bashing. From the well marketed but much maligned Cloverfield Paradox to the disappointingly dull, Bird Box, it’s no surprise that so many space odysseys, alien invasions and post-apocalyptic titles disappear from the collective consciousness as quickly as they arrive.
Thankfully, I Am Mother is a break in Netflix’s regularly scheduled mediocrity, as it builds an intriguing world, challenges well held conventions and houses it in an appropriately sterile environment.
After a unknown catastrophe hits earth, the story follows Daughter (Clara Rugaard) and her android parent, Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) as they live out their lives in an embryo facility designed to repopulate the earth. After an unknown traveler on the outside comes knocking at the door (Hilary Swank), the unusual parental bond between Mother and Daughter is pushed to its limits.
From its opening act, the film screams influences from both classic and more modern sci-fi. As we trawl through the facility in the opening shots, flecks of Alex Garland’s, Ex Machina as well as Ridley Scott’s, Alien franchise can be seen painted over every surface. While some could rightly argue a sense of mimicry, the gamble pays off as the tone is set early and gives a feel for what’s to come.
Structurally, the film echoes Dan Trachtenberg’s terrifically tense, 10 Cloverfield Lane but also suffers from the same 3rd act issues. Writer/director, Grant Sputore is careful in building his world and focusing on a key theme but gets a little lost when trying to wrap it all up. Rather than staying in lane, the narrative is shaken up about two thirds of the way through in such a way that it never really recovers – an odd move considering how intriguing the central premise is to investigate.
What truly sets this film apart from the others however, is the superb performances from the cast. Clare Rugaard and Rose Byrne are brilliant as human Daughter and android Mother, giving good chemistry to the unique pair and a true depth to the central nature vs nurture debate the film dips in and out of. While Hilary Swank could be seen as the selling point of the film, it’s the relationship between the leads that does the film justice.
Overall, while it does have flaws, I Am Mother is certainly one of the best sci-fi offerings the streaming platform has going for it. While 2018’s Annihilation still ultimately reigns as Netflix’s sci-fi movie champion, it’s nice to see that decent sci-fi is no longer exclusive to the platforms stellar TV offerings (aka Stranger Things).
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