It’s not long into I Am Mother, the feature debut of Grant Sputore starring Clara Rugaard, Hilary Swank, and the voice of Rose Byrne, when it’s clear the film is something special.
There’s a confidence in each frame, in the carefulness of how each scene plays out, where you feel comfortable of the direction you’re being taken.
I Am Mother finds a young woman named Daughter (Rugaard) inside a facility under the care of Mother, a robot voiced by Byrne with the sole purpose of raising her and future generations due to the dead or dying world outside.
The film is small in scale but grand in its ideas, taking on heady science fiction questions and placing them on the shoulders of Daughter.
There are little hints and nods to female-led sci-fi films of the 70’s and 80’s. Winks of Alien and Terminator, done effortlessly, unobtrusively and with earnestness, slip in as payments of influence, but it’s still able to hang completely on its own, and with impressive force.
The look of the movie is captivating in its details. The facility has its purpose, each room and space unique and recognizable every time they appear. There’s the lighting techniques, flickering illumination and the use of shadow and light on surfaces, including Mother’s metallic frame, that helps allow depth and visual language to each image.
Then there’s Mother, a Weta Workshop creation whose every scene leaves it a wonder to look at. The design is masterful, little things like star stickers from Daughter’s childhood helping mark a passage of time on what could easily be a simple but wonderful visual. Mother becomes a fascinating individual character that is beautifully voiced by Rose Byrne, whose manners of reasoning and kind demeanor leaves an unnerving edge that is both trusting and disconcerting.
There are small stumbles, mostly in reaching too far out with a few of its complex ideas without enough to back it up. It’s a minor complaint, though, when there’s so much compelling pieces to the film. I Am Mother creates a moral dilemma of threatening Daughter’s world order and leaving questions of what it means for everything else she’s ever been taught.It’s there where the film is massively successful.
Rugaard makes a great lead for the film, managing to sell the relationship between the robotic Mother with conviction, while also working alongside an against-type Hilary Swank and holding her own. Swank comes in at just the right time in the story, jumpstarting the movie as it threatens to spread too thin. The three-way relationship between her, Mother and Daughter is a tense new dynamic.
I Am Mother is an astonishing and small-scale science fiction film with impressive drive. There’s rarely a dull moment, keeping you on your toes and managing to hit its beats with laser focus. It’s a looker, with a tense combination of location and character that delivers a shockingly confident debut feature from Sputore. Combined with a chilling score by Dan Luscombe and Antony Partos, and a tight script from Michael Lloyd Green, I Am Mother is one of the year’s best surprises.
I Am Mother arrives on Netflix on Friday, June 7th.