I Am Mother is an inventive and well thought out sci-fi thriller that suffers from a trudging pace and inconsistent structure. It can never quite make up its mind about whether it wants you to piece the clues together yourself, or if it just wants to explain the plot through long, drawn-out expositional dialogue. Spoiler alert: it does a bit of both.
From the opening sequences and it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque imagery, the film does a splendid job of establishing an ominous tone. The sweet and playful voice of Mother (Rose Byrne) and well-chosen soundtrack both serve to juxtapose the somethings-not-quite-right feel that is set up so well by the dark foreboding cinematography and disorienting editing. This, along with the night time snooping sessions of a game yet somewhat one note Clara Rugaar, are great examples of the film at it’s best. When it is a think piece for the audience, and we are left to realize what is happening ourselves, it is a success. Unfortunately, Grant Sputore and Michael Lloyd Green never quite find themselves able to trust the audience. A great second act is spoiled by the titular Mother spoon feeding the viewer the information they already figured out twenty minutes ago. Choices like that, make the hour and fifty-three minute run time seem bloated and somewhat unnecessary.
Despite all this, the film does feature its fair share of bright spots that make it worth a view. It’s narrative is well conceived and truly unique. The shocks (no matter how diminished by the explanations) are truly shocking, and Hilary Swank’s arc is tied up perfectly. One of the unique aspects of the film is how they shoot the robot. Many sci-fi films have different approaches to their handling of non-human sentient beings, but I Am Mother does it in a way that feels fresh. In conversations between Daughter and Mother, Mother is given her fair share of tight reaction shots. Her robotic artifice is not quite capable of producing any meaningful facial emotion short of a slight eye movement, but that’s not the point. The point is they shoot and edit her in a very human way so that a half hour into the film, the audience finds themselves accepting her humanity which is an essential step in the consumption of the plot.
Ultimately, I Am Mother is an entertaining and thought-provoking sci-fi film that ends up showing too little and telling too much to be considered a landmark in the genre.