Review: I Am Mother

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

This review originally appeared as part of our Sundance 2019 coverage

PLOT: After an extinction event wipes out mankind and leaves the earth a desolate wasteland, a robot (voiced by Rose Byrne) running a vast underground laboratory with sixty-five thousand human embryos, designed to repopulate the planet, raises a child to adulthood, only to have the arrival of a stranger (Hilary Swank) prove the robot’s intentions may not be as altruistic as they seem.

REVIEW: It’s interesting that Sundance is premiering Grant Sputore’s I AM MOTHER so close to MEMORY – THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN, with the DNA of Ridley Scott’s film pretty evident in this ambitious sci-fi effort. An intriguing, creative tale of artificial intelligence, which would make it an interesting companion piece to EX MACHINA, I AM MOTHER has the potential to be a sci-fi sleeper, boasting excellent special fx considering the modest budget, terrific production design and, most importantly, a startling, star-making performance by Clara Rugaard.

She plays the young woman raised by ?Rose Byrne’s “Mother”, “daughter”, who's spent her whole life being educated by her robotic guardian. The idea is that she’s being raised as a way to teach Mother about humans, while she’ll, in turn, help educate the future of humanity once the embryos are birthed. In the meantime, she spends her days being educated on philosophy and medicine, spending her downtime watching old episodes of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” to help teach her about what the world used to be.

Naturally, for the genre, it turns out that secrets are being kept once Hilary Swank’s character shows up with a bullet wound, proving the earth is still habitable if desolate, with tales of other survivors and a robot uprising. To give Spurtore’s film credit, it doesn’t go down the easy road and make Byrne’s mother a Terminator-type figure, but rather it explores the potential of self-awareness among artificial intelligence and what the outcome might be. While it for sure has numerous similarities to James Cameron’s films, it never becomes a clone, even if a twist in the third act throws the film off-balance a bit, which is a shame as the first two-thirds of the film are just about perfect.

Through it all through, Rugaard is an extremely compelling actress to hang a film on expertly conveying Daughter’s conflict between her affection for Mother and her desperate curiosity to explore the planet and meet more humans. Rose Byrne’s voicing of the titular mother is also excellent, opting for a degree of warmth that may or may not be real. Of the three, Hilary Swank probably has the more modest part, playing a desperate woman who seems to want to free Daughter, but obviously has her own motives, and to the film’s credit you never really know where it’s going to end up.

While it does have some major issues in the third act that don’t quite add up, I AM MOTHER is slick, sophisticated sci-fi, with excellent production values, superb sound design and compelling robot design by Weta, making this a potentially smart pick-up for a studio looking for what could become a sci-fi sleeper. It’s definitely one to keep an eye out for and definitely a major debut for Rugaard, who seems like a star of the future.



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.