I Am Mother tells the story of a teenage girl who resides in an underground facility under the care of a robot, who acts as her surrogate mother. When a mysterious stranger turns up with a gun wound and some shocking news, the teenage girl starts to question her mother’s directives, causing difficulties to arise in their relationship.
It is always a bit of a gamble with Netflix Original films. Some have been really good, others have unfortunately fallen short of the mark, often due to anti-climatic endings. The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind and Mute are two brilliant examples of where Netflix have got it right with great narratives and satisfying endings. On the flip side titles such as The Outsider and The Highwaymen have been hugely disappointing, both lacking pace and purpose. I Am Mother isn’t a flawless film but it is far better than previously anticipated, and although it is quite simple in design, it is executed skilfully and effectively.
The first aspect of I Am Mother that drew my attention is the gorgeous cinematography. It is beautifully shot and I couldn’t find a single weak example of camerawork throughout the entire film. Atmosphere and tone are two key elements that I Am Mother handles expertly, and the clever cinematography and camera work reinforces this. In many ways it is shot like a horror film with many of the shots focusing on empty corridors and rooms of the facility. The camera seems to float throughout this location, which builds up tension and creates a sense of uneasiness. It is an odd thing to say in its favour but the film actually looks like it could have been made in the 1970s and 80s. Its lingering camera shots, use of lighting and sound work reminds me heavily of films such as The Shining.
As well as embracing elements of horror, I Am Mother feels largely influenced by classic science fiction, as the interior shots bear similarities to films such as Alien and Moon. Additionally, the exterior sequences, although less frequently seen, have that well established dystopian design to them. They also provide some nice variation and hint at the bigger overall world development occurring beyond the walls of the facility. There is something visually arresting and attention grabbing about the outside locations. The wide, expansive spaces are all encompassing and juxtapose heavily with the closeness of the facility.
The acting is tremendous and although there are only three main characters focused upon, all three actors do a fantastic job of holding the viewer’s attention. Hilary Swank is a seasoned and versatile actor and it shows in her performance. She is able to present a character who is paranoid, hostile and with a feral like quality; she resembles a cornered animal, unable to trust her hosts. Despite not knowing anything about her character, you can’t help but be convinced by her story. Rose Byrne provides the voice of Mother and somehow manages to make her calm, relaxing and soothing voice a little unnerving and sinister. It is a jarring image as you have this intimidating looking machine speaking so gently.
Both these performances are great but it is Clara Ruggard who really shines in the role of the daughter. Although the main events of the film happen over a relatively short amount of time, her character develops and grows quite radically. Ruggard conveys this beautifully, delivering a myriad of emotions and highlighting the complexity of her position. Her shocked and horror stricken reactions when certain truths come to light feel genuine and impact the viewer.
The narrative twist is probably the weakest aspect of I Am Mother. The science fiction elements of the world are well done and interesting to learn about. However, the direction the story takes is obvious and I think more could have been done to surprise the viewer and look at the situation from a more unusual perspective. Despite it being a little predictable in that regard, it is executed and seen through to its conclusion solidly and with skill. The pacing of I Am Mother is spot on and although two hours doesn’t seem like a long run time, it exceeds most other Netflix Original films that opt for one hour and a half to one hour and forty five minutes. The added run time allows for a satisfying opening, middle and conclusion and uses its time to build up a great level of suspense and tension, resulting in a climactic and intense conclusion.
I Am Mother aims quite high with its scope and delivers in almost everything apart from its choice of narrative twist. Although Netflix Original films have sizeable budgets and incredible talent behind them, many of their films don’t quite match the scale of big screen productions. I Am Mother is a film I would love to see on the big screen. It has a polish and finish that is of a high standard and the cinematography, lighting and sound work is hugely immersive and impactful. The fact that the machine design of Mother was handled by Weta Workshop shows, as it combines familiar robot features but has its own unique edge and approach.
I Am Mother has a simple narrative but one that is executed with skill and flair. The cinematography, lighting, sound work and acting all come together to deliver a satisfying movie. This is enough to overlook a predictable twist.