Skip to main content

Have you always lived here, Mother?

I Am Mother
(2019)

(SPOILERS) This Netflix science-fiction offering arrived with very solid reviews, always a surprise for a Netflix movie, even one they picked up at Sundance. For about two-thirds of the running time, I Am Mother seems to justify the (modest) raves. It boasts assured direction from Grant Sputore (making his feature debut), polished production values and strong performances from a very small cast (basically Hilary Swank and Clare Rugaard, with Luke Hawker in a Weta robot body suit and Rose Byrne providing the voice). It operates intriguing turns of plot and switches in sympathies. Ultimately, however, I Am Mother heads towards a faintly underwhelming and unremarkable, standard-issue conclusion.

We’re essentially informed there’s something suspect about the assumed scenario during the prologue, in which, following an extinction event, droid Mother is observed overseeing an underground facility housing 63,000 embryos. “She” brings a child into the world, and an onscreen title soon informs us that 13,867 days have passed since the event… which would make the teenager we see thirty-seven years old. More the kind of age range Hilary Swank’s later interloper is, in fact (I was expecting this to be a reveal, that she was a reject or had escaped, but it appears she actually is a survivor from the outside, albeit one surviving at Mother’s permission).

There’s much potential in the hermetic universe suggested by Michael Lloyd Green’s Black List screenplay (from a story he hashed out with Sputore), but much of it is squandered in standard tropes. The “Who’s lying to whom?” of Swank and Mother vying for the allegiance of Rugaard’s Daughter is engaging to a degree (in as much as we don’t have the fine details), but lands somewhere all too familiar to any with but a brief sampling of evil AI plots (the AI/ Mother initiated the extinction even in order to fashion a better humanity, terminating any offspring who failed to meet her exacting ethical standards… until now).

Much is made of utilitarian decision making in the first instance – it’s key to Daughter’s exams – but the screenplay does little fresh or notable with this. Worse, it entirely fails to make Daughter a character who (a) imbues anything discernible to evidence why Mother thinks she stands out and (b) behaves in the manner of one who has been raised devoid of contact with other humans; when Swank arrives it’s “on with the show”. Likewise, when Daughter’s released into the exterior, there’s little impact from her perspective (although Steven Annis’ cinematography is impressive). That’s not to put down Rugaard’s performance; she’s very impressive, but she doesn’t have the material (or direction) to work with.

Indeed, even the intrigue of working out the truth from the various tales told was done much more effectively in the fairly recent, also claustrophobic 10 Cloverfield Road. We expect an AI to turn evil, and have expected robots to go/be rogue for decades now (Saturn 3, Demon Seed, Alien etc). That Mother has a deluded moral code (“I had to intervene, to elevate my creators”), based on her interpretation of the greater need, isn’t really a vital enough spark to make this stand out from the crowd. I Am Mother is, nevertheless, an effective calling card production-wise, and Sputore’s sure to be in great future demand (as is Rugaard). I hope, however, that if this is any indication, studios don’t give him free rein to develop his own undercooked ideas (see previously Weta-kind Neill Blomkamp).


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.