CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Algee Smith, Raúl Castillo, Oscar Wahlberg, Kate Avallone, Owen Burke, Jared Reinfeldt, Tamara Hickey, Liam McNeill, Kiara Pichardo, Christian Mallen
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
BASICALLY…: A pregnant young woman (Moretz) must survive in a war between humans and machines…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
More than halfway through Mother/Android, a character harkens back to a 1920s play by Czech writer Karel Čapek called Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti, which not only introduced the word “robot” into the English language, but is also considered the original robot uprising narrative, which has gone on to dominate several science-fiction movies from The Terminator to Blade Runner. It’s one of the scarcely few times that writer-director Mattson Tomlin’s film actually attempts to dig a little deeper into its familiar roots, which it relies far too greatly on to be anything more than a rather bleak and dreary example of the classic set-up.
We begin during a Christmas party, in a society where androids have been programmed to serve humanity as standard butlers, which is also when college student Georgia (Chloë Grace Moretz) discovers that she has unexpectedly fallen pregnant by her boyfriend Sam (Algee Smith). However, before Georgia can decide what to do with the unborn baby, all technology malfunctions and begins slaughtering humans, and in a matter of months practically the entire United States has fallen. Flash-forward to nine months later, when a now heavily-pregnant Georgia and Sam are trekking through the forests towards sanctuary in Boston, but with rogue androids on their scent the couple must do whatever it takes to survive, even if it means making some tough sacrifices along the way.
In the realm of robot uprising sci-fi movies, Mother/Android is narratively unremarkable; it hits many of the familiar points, from placing blame on humanity’s arrogance, to the glimpses of feral life within the wilderness that our unfortunately bland lead characters have to venture through. It is a surprisingly uneventful film, with budget limitations clearly preventing many of the androids from actually appearing on-screen for large chunks, to a point where you actually forget that there are supposed to be any in this story. Instead, we’re largely following human characters who not only aren’t particularly interesting, but continue to make numerous ill-advised mistakes that make things so much worse for themselves and countless others; when they’re safe in a containment camp, Sam makes the incredible decision to pick a fight with a guard to get transport elsewhere, resulting in both him and his very pregnant girlfriend being expelled, which amazingly enough doesn’t even compare with a third-act blunder that practically dooms an entire city. Both Chloë Grace Moretz and Algee Smith do as well as they can with their characters, but it isn’t enough to forgive some dumb writing that makes these protagonists feel very incompetent in this life-or-death scenario.
The movie tries to camouflage its pedestrian storytelling with an incredibly bleak tone that makes it feel like a dour alternate-universe episode of The Walking Dead – seriously, one quick rewrite and this is a zombie movie instead of about robots – but therein lies a whole other problem. Sometimes, the dreary approach can lead to some distressing and occasionally surprising moments, but the reason that equally desolate post-apocalyptic dramas like Children of Men and A Quiet Place work as well as they do (which is probably why Mother/Android borrows plenty from both) is that they found scenarios and characters to latch onto that were both interesting and engaging for the audience to become invested in. Neither exist in Mother/Android, and so the darker tone is just there as a grim add-on to a bland, well-trodden narrative which adds nothing except even greater misery for the viewer.
Again, though, there are times in the movie where you can see that Mattson Tomlin is at least trying to say something in his writing and direction, even if it’s nothing too momentous. The bleak approach manages to provoke some brutal imagery that potentially parallels with war-torn countries and the mass migration to elsewhere in the world as refugees, which is not an uncommon theme in post-modern sci-fi but is definitely a metaphor that certainly won’t be lost on many viewers. The ending, too, is especially brave for a film that has, to a point, followed certain conventions rather closely and not done much else to stand out from the pack, though given the rough reception this film has received from both critics and audiences, it’s a conclusion that doesn’t seem to have satisfied many, and for perfectly understandable reasons.
Although there is a little bit of effort sprinkled throughout, Mother/Android is too dull and redundant to really get invested in. Your mind will keep going to much better and more interesting examples of robot uprisings within sci-fi narratives, including that Čapek play which started the whole trend.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Mother/Android is a bleak sci-fi drama which occasionally shows glimmers of intrigue, but they are largely covered over by redundant and uninteresting storytelling with bland characters, familiar post-apocalyptic tropes, and an overly grim tone that adds nothing to an already dried-up narrative.