Tense sci-fi thriller I Am Mother is a notch above most straight-to-Netflix fare

Streaming on Netflix, I Am Mother sees a teenage girl raised underground by a robot ‘mother’ designed to repopulate the earth following an extinction event, alone until the unexpected arrival of another.

The streaming sci-fi thriller is tense, keeps the viewer curious, and is a notch above most straight-to-Netflix fare, writes Steve Newall

Black Mirror isn’t the only gloomy technological future new to Netflix this week. I Am Mother sets out a less satirical, if no less pessimistic, stall—set in a repopulation facility after an “extinction event”. There, a young woman (Daughter) is raised by a robot (Mother), the mechanical caregiver learning parenting one-on-one before reviving humanity from the vast store of embryos Daughter herself originated from.

With only Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) to interact with from birth, teenage Daughter (Clara Rugaard) is wholly unprepared for the arrival of a wounded fellow human (Hilary Swank), and the once-secure space of the facility becomes an effectively claustrophobic setting for this increasingly paranoid sci-fi three-hander.

More sophisticated than the young adult dystopian fare one could mistake it for on the surface, Daughter nevertheless embodies some staples of the genre. While she’s been instilled with discipline and educated with specific attributes in mind, there’s still a curiosity to push boundaries, to find out what’s outside her bunker-like home, as well as fully understand what’s happened to humanity.

These relatable coming-of-age elements also include the way Daughter repeatedly gazes at a male portrait drawn by her unexpected visitor. And like many YA characters, she’s described as “special” by Mother, although as we come to see, this ends up being a more appropriate description of human traits like empathy than the characteristics favoured by her maternal machine.

There’s some familiarity to this future, too—some Ridley Scott here, shades of James Cameron there, hints to horror movies’ “final girl” and a largely practical humanoid robot design that unsurprisingly turns out to be credited to Weta (with some Stan Winston/Rob Bottin also in Mother’s DNA, perhaps). Some narrative developments, too, may be anticipated by sci-fi fans, but thankfully the film’s elevated by strong contributions both in onscreen performances and behind the camera. Seldom will you see evidence of the film’s reportedly small budget, I Am Mother serving as a strong calling card for director Grant Sputore, making his feature debut, as well as cinematography and production design that wring the most out of the post-apocalyptic shelter setting.

Getting great mileage out of its seemingly simple tale of two women and a robot (ok, and the annihilation of humanity), there’s plenty to recommend in this streaming sci-fi thriller—tense, keeping the viewer curious, and a notch above most straight-to-Netflix fare.