A robot (body – Luke Hawker, voice – Rose Byrne) lives alone in a vast bunker. The bunker has been built to sustain hum life and contains over sixty thousand human embryos. The robot selects one, a female, and grows it. As the child grows, she addresses the robot as Mother. The robot addresses her as Daughter.
Mother educates and tests Daughter (Clara Rugaard), who is now a young woman. Daughter knows nothing outside of the bunker and been told by Mother that the atmosphere is too toxic for a human to survive. When a mouse finds its way into the bunker, and Daughter finds it, she takes it to Mother.
Mother incinerates the rodent, telling Daughter that it could be infected. The destruction of the mouse affects Daughter. When Mother powers down to recharge for the evening, Daughter decides to venture outside. Before she can open the doors she hears pounding from the outside and then a woman’s voice.
The woman tells her she is hurt and needs to come in. Daughter, never having met another soul, lets her in. She tells her to put on a hazard suit before she lets her into the bunker proper. The opening of the outside door awakens Mother who comes running. Daughter leaves the woman (Hillary Swank) in the airlock room, hiding her from Mother.
Daughter returns to the woman and sees that she is injured. She goes to get her some medical supplies and hides the woman in a different part of the bunker, but not before she takes the woman’s gun from her bag. When Daughter returns to see her later, the woman asks for her gun. Mother finds them and comes for the woman. Daughter stops Mother from killing the woman.
The woman is still wary of Mother and refuses to be treated by the robot. The woman’s condition is bad and she needs an operation to remove the bullet lodged in her body. Still refusing to let the robot near her, Daughter opts to do the procedure. Daughter removes the bullet. As the woman recovers, Daughter talks to her wanting to know if there are more people outside.
The woman tells her of a group living underground who have been hiding from the robots and how one of them had helped her evade the robot that shot her. She has drawn illustrations of all the people in a book she carries with her. Mother interrupts them. She tells Daughter that the woman is lying about the shooting and that she was probably shot by another human.
Mother tells Daughter that is time for her to pick a sibling. Daughter put a male embryo into the incubator. Daughter asks the woman about the shooting. The woman asks if she had seen the bullets. Daughter waits until Mother powers down and checks the bullets. Whilst checking the bullets she has another thought and looks at the embryo birth records, she finds a picture of a young girl with information saying she was terminated.
She goes to the furnace and finds the remains of a lower jaw. Daughter returns to the woman. She wants to leave the bunker but wants to take her brother with her. The woman does not want to wait. Daughter tells they only have to wait twenty-four hours. Mother tricks Daughter and locks her in a lab. Mother goes to see the woman. She recorded the conversation between her and Daughter and knows they plan to escape.
Daughter breaks out of the lab and sets off the emergency alarms. She and the woman escape. Outside the world is barren and desolate. Daughter follows the woman to a large metal container. Daughter realises that is where she lives and she is all alone. There are no others.
Daughter decides to go back for her brother. Back at the bunker, she is met by an army of robots. They step aside to let her in. Inside she encounters Mother. Mother tells her that the robots, who are all a connected consciousness, wiped out the human race and that she, Daughter, was the first of a new, better race of humans. Would she take on the task? Daughter agrees. Mother shuts down.
Mother, in another robot, goes to visit the woman and kills her. Daughter is left to bring up her brother. The end.
I Am Mother mixes The Terminator’s Skynet, The Matrix and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina to fashion an okay film. Like another Alex Garland film, Annihilation, I Am Mother almost disappears up its own orifice with its need to be clever. The basic premise of the film, highly intelligent robots or androids overrunning the human race, is one that has been utilised many times in both books and films.
There is no indication as to what caused the robots to rise up or if there had been some human reason for the eradication of the human race. The film is set at some unspecified time in the future, though it is not too far in the future as the woman recognises old video of Johnny Carson and Whoopi Goldberg from an earlier time in her life.
Written by Michael Lloyd Green and Grant Sputore, who also directs, the script is quite good and keeps you engaged even if there is not a lot of action. The film really works due to the interactions between Byrne’s Mother and Rugaard’s Daughter. With only Daughter’s expressions to work with, Rugaard has to do the lion’s share of the emoting for the audience to feel what is happening in the film.
Once Swank enters the fray, the story picks up pace, with Mother and the woman both trying to convince Daughter that their vision is the one to follow. Unfortunately, that which makes the script pacy and gives the film zip also affects the storytelling, the sparseness of the script creating confusion.
Visually, the film is quite stunning, the futuristic bunker perfectly creating the tone and mood for the story. Rugaard’s expressive face is ably employed by Sputore, close-ups on her eyes and facial ticks pushing the story along.
Byrne’s voice is the perfect pitch for the role of the world remodelling Mother. She keeps the tone even, only changing in terms of pace for urgency. Swank, as would be expected, puts in a great performance as the paranoid and slightly crazed woman trying to escape the robots.
For me, it was too much like the third Terminator instalment, a film that also suffered from a weak ending. It did, however, have a lot more action.
I Am Mother is a watchable film that is not as clever as it would like to be. At a one hundred and thirteen minute runtime, it has a good build up with an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. If you are a lover of dystopian sci-fi, you will enjoy I Am Mother, otherwise, you could probably give it a miss.