New to Netflix – I Am Mother: Dystopian sci-fi film quizzes nature vs nurture with twist after twist

Following humanity’s mass extinction, a robot, ‘Mother’ (Rose Byrne) begins repopulation by raising a teenage girl (Clara Rugaard) in a special underground facility. But their bond is threatened following the inexplicable arrival of a stranger with startling news about the outside world.

Our modern dependency on technology has risen to scary heights – but nowhere near as scary as what we encounter in I Am Mother. In Netflix’s newest original, we’re locked down in an underground scientific facility controlled by a humanoid robot called ‘Mother’. The machine’s aim is to repopulate humanity after a catastrophic apocalypse which has left the outside world uninhabitable. That’s all we learn – ‘how’ and ‘why’ seem unimportant as we’re immediately thrust into Mother’s efforts to raise a normal child in an intensely scientific environment. This initial section of the film raises some interesting questions about nature vs nurture and whether you alone can imprint positive attributes on a child. These questions become very important towards the end of I Am Mother and help to explain the myriad of twists which spin us around and around from the film’s middle section onwards.

Science and motherhood are skilfully blended in the robotic design of the facility and Mother herself. No matter the robot’s nurturing side and subtle humanity (sliding buttons where her mouth would be look like a smile), you cannot help but be unnerved by her predatory physique and shining eye. She more closely resembles a killing machine than a motherly figure, while the facility looks like somewhere you would engineer a robot army than a home for a growing child. This design helps to build tension from the outset and helps with heightening the surprise of various plot twists.

The script, written by first-timer Michael Lloyd Green, is taught and compelling, keeping us engaged with only a few characters and without relying on flashbacks to expand the narrative world. Green clearly did his research – the story touches on similar themes to modern sci-fi classics like Ex Machina and Moon. Both succeed with few characters and a claustrophobic narrative backdrop, and I Am Mother easily takes its place alongside these excellent films. A prominent feature on Hollywood’s script Blacklist (well-liked scripts with no producer attached) in 2016, Netflix’s decision to make I Am Mother is belated, considering Green’s obvious talent.

The acting also clicks across the film. Rose Byrne, voicing Mother, sheds all traces of her comedy fame to nail the character’s creepy monotone. We are constantly kept guessing about her true motives, and Byrne helps fuel this uncertain tension. Debutant Clara Rugaard makes a similar impact as ‘Daughter’, her unfeeling name a poor portrayal of the depth of empathy we develop for her. Mother’s care makes her emotionally well-rounded, but Rugaard blends this trusting nature with a scientific distrust of Mother’s robotic origins. It’s a perfect window into the surreality of her upbringing. Hilary Swank also stars as an apocalypse survivor living in the outside world – Swank brings the rough edges needed to drive the story along to its dramatic climax but lacks any other dimensions to take her character beyond a plot point.

A great all-round effort, I suspect we will see more from Green and director Grant Sputore in the very near future.

I Am Mother is exciting and thought-provoking, surprising viewers with enough twists to leave us guessing and posing intriguing questions for us to answer. 7.5/10.

I Am Mother is available to view on Netflix now!

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