Post-Apocalyptic Robot Thriller Mother/Android Needs an OS Update

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Post-Apocalyptic Robot Thriller Mother/Android Needs an OS Update

College student Georgia (Chloë Grace Moretz) is halfway through telling her friend that she wants to get an abortion when her world is catapulted into a post-apocalyptic hellscape. The androids-turned-butlers that every family in America seems to have go from charming and subservient to malicious and bloodthirsty, with an automated eye on wiping out the human race. Next thing we know, Georgia is nine months pregnant, and she and her boyfriend Sam (Algee Smith) are terrified and on the run from a homicidal army of cyborgs. This sudden, jarring switch to a life-or-death state is given even more urgency by virtue of the ticking time bomb in Georgia’s uterus.

The initial setup of Mattson Tomlin’s feature debut Mother/Android offers two options for the trajectory of the film. One, it’ll explore the nuances of human vs. robot through Georgia’s pregnancy, which is a fascinating conversation that tends to bode well (see A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Ex Machina). Or, option two: The pregnancy won’t play into the film’s themes at all, and will instead serve as an arbitrary incentive for our protagonists to escape from their assailants. To his detriment, Tomlin chooses the latter.

This is not to say that the latter option precludes the possibility of a good—or even great—film. But despite choosing the emotional route, Tomlin doesn’t give us nearly enough emotional weight to cling to. When we first meet Georgia, she is struggling with whether she even wants to be with Sam, not to mention have his baby. Because of this, we expect that she’ll be fleshed out into a complex character. Sadly, she never really amounts to anything beyond a one-dimensional mama bear. Sam similarly isn’t given the material to progress beyond a listless, often misguided provider. They’re a couple whose chemistry is lacking, as is the rationale for us watching them in the first place.

But this isn’t for a lack of trying on the actors’ parts. Moretz is far and away the best part of the film, embedding subtlety into lines about monumental subjects such as the decimation of the human race, and when she isn’t speaking, she does a stellar job reminding us about the physical stresses of trudging through the woods when you’re well past your due-date. Her impressive effort only makes it that much more frustrating when none of the characters are really given the opportunity to move beyond a lifelessness that is, ironically, reminiscent of their robotic foes.

And the characters aren’t the only elements of Mother/Android that slip into clichés. On their pilgrimage through the woods, not only do Sam and Georgia encounter a number of barbarous androids, but an onslaught of obvious apocalypse-movie tropes, too. Dispersed throughout the woods are base camps where humans can take refuge. Running the camps are gruff, tough military machos right out of the dystopian playbook. The woods themselves, too, are an obvious spot for these kinds of movies, and Tomlin doesn’t do much to build up a sense of the protagonists’ new wooded world.

Following its surprising inciting event, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Mother/Android isn’t going to do anything new with the beloved robot-takeover subgenre. But these films are popular for a reason, and I would be remiss to say that even a strict following of the genre’s rules doesn’t ultimately yield an enjoyable film. When an android sprints after the couple and Georgia shoots at it from the back of a dirt bike, it’s undeniably exhilarating. Similarly, it’s hard not to feel ultra-tense while waiting to see if the military guards are going to let the couple into their camp and out of harm’s way. Gritty action scenes are not Mother/Android’s weak-point, and its shadowy, lo-fi cinematography helps build a sense of dread and anxiety, while also rooting the film’s disaster in reality.

Mother/Android works best as a compelling action flick, but its construction leads me to wonder why it even needed to involve robots in the first place. The film never bothers to explain the initial epic software malfunction, nor does it consider questions of humanness, even though our protagonist is literally growing a human child, and the title infers an eventual connection between human and machine. Like its confusing title, Mother/Android never really figures out what it wants to say.

Director: Mattson Tomlin
Writers: Mattson Tomlin
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Algee Smith, Raúl Castillo
Release Date: December 17, 2021 (Hulu)

Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.

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