Sundance 2019: Futuristic Sci-Fi Thriller 'I Am Mother' About a Robot
by Alex Billington
January 27, 2019
It's time to meet your new Mother. There's a surprise, original sci-fi film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this year titled I Am Mother, an impressive creation that is worth your time if you're a sci-fi geek like me. I really love that there's original, epic sci-fi projects like this being made out there without us even knowing, getting funded somehow, with the ability to go all-out with crazy ideas and make something new and unique. Then the film shows up at Sundance and while it's an odd fit for the festival, I'm still all for it, bring on the sci-fi goodness, please. It's best to see this film knowing as little as possible, so I won't reveal anything major and only give a fairly vague description. All you really need to know is this sci-fi film packs a punch, plays around with some big ideas, and features a crazy cool practical robot built by Weta Workshop.
I Am Mother is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Grant Sputore, an award-winning commercials director from Australia finally showing what he's truly capable of when given the freedom to come up with a feature film that's creative and epic and awesome. The film introduces us to a very advanced AI robot unit dubbed "Mother", who is the caretaker inside of a high tech re-population facility buried underground. The humans have triggered a world-ending apocalypse, but luckily they were smart enough to build this place before it all went to hell. The film opens with Mother taking out a female embryo and raising the child - and the story continues once she's a teen. "Daughter" treats this robot like an actual, real human Mother because it's all she's ever known. But soon something happens and she finally finds out the truth about everything.
They do deserve acclaim here for designing an impressive, unique robot character that has somewhat of a quirky, likable personality. Mother was built practically by Weta Workshop, operated by a guy-in-the-suit during filming, and enhanced with tiny screens and various colored lights. She's familiar and simple, but slick, and it compliments the production design that also features sleek, minimalistic attributes. It's not as beautiful of an environment as in Tron Legacy, but they do their best to create a set that feels realistically self-contained, but still massive enough to not feel cramped. It's complimented by great sound design and a lovely voice for the robot provided by Rose Byrne. There are some iconic shots and moments in this that sci-fi geeks will flip for, which makes it an entirely worthy feature to discover on your own as soon you can.
Of course, it's not just about the robot design or the visuals - the story matters most of all. Clara Rugaard as "Daughter" gives the best performance in the film. And the mother/daughter story is compelling enough to keep your attention, with a steady pace keeping things moving along. It only starts to drag near the end, when Sputore begins to throw in twist after twist, and you wonder where it's all going and whether it's going to wrap up in a meaningful way. On one hand, I'm glad he goes all out with this and attempts to go big and bold with the story. Better to try than to not try at all. But it loses its charm by the time it gets into this third act, and needs a bit more work on the final few sequences. It's not my favorite sci-fi ever, but I can look past some of the faults and flaws in this and still appreciate it for the intense, cerebral, twisty sci-fi thriller it is.
Alex's Sundance 2019 Rating: 8 out of 10
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