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Movies

Here's why you need to see Netflix's new sci-fi thriller film 'I Am Mother'

Raising teenage girls is hard enough for humans, so can a robot do any better?

Movie: I Am Mother
Release date: June 7th
Reviewed by: Travis Johnson
After an unknown event wipes out the human race, a young girl is raised in a sealed underground complex by a benevolent robot known only as Mother. When a wounded woman suddenly and inexplicably arrives at their haven, it raises troubling questions about the outside world.
★★★★
Canny fans of science fiction will be able to list the obvious influences here like they were ticking off a shopping list. There's 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, Duncan Jones' Moon, and on and on.
The thing is, Australian director Grant Sputore and screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green are aware of this.
The playful appearance of a piece of origami late in the proceedings leave no doubt that they're deeply cognisant of their film's genre roots and are deploying their reference points to best effect.
Image: Netflix
On the whole I Am Mother is a superb exercise in making the absolute most of the resources at hand, both in terms of genre and production.
This is a small, low-key film, largely set-bound, and populated by only three key characters: teenager "Daughter" (Clara Rugaard), fearful, paranoid survivor "Woman" (Hilary Swank), and the titular Mother, voiced by Rose Byrne but realised as a physical presence by a Weta-designed suit.
Besides looking after children robots can also look after plants. Watch this video to see how it works. Story continues after video...
Yet it never feels cheap. There's a polished sheen to the production design and an assured verve to the framing, cutting, and pacing that's unusual in a first feature – this feels like the work of experienced hands.
It's an astute piece; you never get the feeling that this is a crass, flashy calling card film designed to lure in bigger opportunities.
The task at hand is telling this story in front of us, and Sputore and his team go about it with remarkable efficiency and restraint.
Image: Netflix
The key creative choice, then, is letting the performances carry the day, and newcomer Rugaard and Oscar-awarded veteran Swank are simply fantastic together, the former a savant raised in isolation by a machine, the latter a scarred and hardened scavenger with a deep mistrust of Mother.
Mother herself a fascinating construction; Byrne's flat, feminine delivery lets us read all kinds of emotions and intents into her lines depending on the context, and the film uses this to full effect as the story progresses and things start to really fall apart.
The film goes to great pains to lay out its conceits in the opening act, making sure we understand where we are and what the rules of the situation are.
Swank and Rugaard at the 2019 Sundance premiere of I Am Mother. (Getty)
Once Swank shows up, however, the narrative quickly tacks into thriller territory, and we're kept off balance as Daughter tries to figure out what's real, balancing the shattering fact of Woman's simple existence against the supposed truths her robotic protector has taught her for her entire life.
Of course, the film has secrets, but I Am Mother's revelations are best experienced firsthand, as are its philosophical aspirations (you don't have characters named Mother, Daughter, and Woman without having something weighty on your mind), even if some of them don't quite land.
When you get down to it, I Am Mother's ambitions aren't in its ideas, but in its craft, and this is an extraordinarily well-made SF thriller.
I Am Mother doesn't rewrite the book, but it doesn't have to. This is an assured sci-fi thriller that hits every mark with robotic precision.

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