I Am Mother is a big idea debut feature from Grant Sputore, who puts his commendable ambition on the screen in every frame. Even when I Am Mother falters and occasionally gets in its own way, it will leave you wondering what Sputore will do next.
From the get-go, I Am Mother is cloaked in an eerie ambiguity as we watch a droid preparing an embryo for birth. Something is happening outside the walls of this highly-secured compound, but the movie leaves us in the dark for some time, skillfully increasing our curiosity.
Though thousands of embryos are being cared for, the droid chooses one to evolve and grow. The droid – known as Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) – tries to give her daughter as normal of an upbringing as one can in a chilly, remote bunker.
“…a droid preparing an embryo for birth…tries to give her daughter as normal of an upbringing as one can…”
As Daughter grows up (played by a terrific breakout Clara Rugaard) she becomes increasingly fascinated by life outside. Mother assures this is the safest place she can be, but that doesn’t stop Daughter from trying to explore on her own.
One night, she attempts to open the doors but hears someone’s voice. A desperate woman (Hilary Swank) is injured and seeking some sort of solace and Daughter’s natural instinct is to help her. She lets the woman in, who is immediately suspicious and hesitant to trust Daughter and, especially, Mother, who makes it clear she shouldn’t be there.
I Am Mother takes it’s time unfolding, purposefully, even occasionally feeling a bit sluggish in the back half of the film. Despite the tension or flashes of action, Sputore isn’t interested in making a slam-bang action thriller. The casual pace reflects the remoteness and loneliness of Daughter’s upbringing, making us feel anxious with her.
“…reflects the remoteness and loneliness of Daughter’s upbringing, making us feel anxious with her.“
Created on a small budget, I Am Mother is impressive with its effects, combining CGI and practical seamlessly. You would think the movie was created with studio means.
As twists start to pile on, I Am Mother shifts from eerie to tedious, but there’s too much on display to outright dismiss. Sputore wears his influences on his sleeve, while created a calling card of his own. He’s a director with a vision, and I Am Mother will allow him to explore those ideas for many movies to come.
I Am Mother (2019) Directed by Grant Sputore. Written by Michael Lloyd Green. Starring Hilary Swank, Clara Rugaard and Rose Byrne. I Am Mother screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
7 out of 10