Post-apocalyptic stories are fast reaching the point of ubiquity, making it even harder for a writer or director to bring anything to the table that hasn’t been seen or done before at least a handful of times already. What makes Mother/Android stand out from the pack, though, is that it’s an end-of-the-world sci-fi thriller that also doubles as an intensely personal story for writer and first-time feature director Mattson Tomlin.
As an infant, the future writer of Netflix smash hit Project Power and Matt Reeves’ The Batman was given up by his biological Romanian parents in 1989 during the country’s revolution, which helped shape him into the man he is today. Taking essentially the same concept and melding it onto an ambitious road trip narrative with plenty of twists and turns, Mother/Android is an ambitious debut, if not always a completely successful one.
The story opens with Chloë Grace Moretz’s Georgia and her boyfriend Sam, played by Euphoria‘s Algee Smith, discovering that they’ve got a baby on the way. Before they can even wrap their heads around becoming parents, the sentient androids that have become hired help for humans suffer a short circuit on a global scale, immediately thrusting us into a thrilling scrap set at a party that boasts plenty of urgency.
Just when you think we’re getting an action-heavy interpretation of the robot uprising, Tomlin pulls the rug out from under us for the first of several times. Instead, we’re dropped into a relationship drama nine months into the future, with Georgia way past her due date, desperately seeking a place where she can safely give birth without having to worry about a murderous super-intelligence trying to kill her.
Traversing across the dangerous and often deadly No Man’s Land, Sam and Georgia eventually sidle up to a military base, where they don’t last long. Forced out onto the road again, their only beacon of hope are whispers that if they make it to the water in Boston, rescue ships will be able to safely escort them and their child to safety, which facilitates a ticking-clock element in a plot that arguably needs it by the time we hit the halfway mark.
Mother/Android can often luxuriate in its own languid pace, and while that’s hardly a bad thing when Moretz owns every scene with Smith providing stellar support, it often stalls the momentum. There are set pieces and lashings of genuine excitement peppered throughout the running time, but it often seems as though Tomlin is deliberately grinding things to a halt to make the pyrotechnics more impactful, which ends up giving the entire movie a stop/start feeling that it never shakes.
Eventually, our intrepid duo stumble upon Raul Castillo’s engineer Arthur, living alone in the woods having very possibly gone completely insane. He claims to have developed technology that prevents detection by the robots, and his new toys are put to the test in a pulse-pounding rescue mission that makes great use of its minimalistic setting to invoke genuine dread as Georgia stalks around a house packed to the brim with enemies who want her dead, and all she’s got is the word of a stranger that it won’t go horribly wrong.
Things begin to grow increasingly less plausible as Mother/Android careens into its third act, but sci-fi has never been a form of cinema particularly concerned with realism. One of the film’s greatest strengths is a bit of an oxymoron; it leans into tropes and archetypes to the extent you can see them coming from a mile off, but right at the last second Tomlin’s screenplay pivots in an altogether different direction.
There are at least a couple of genuine twists that you may not see coming, and while diving too far into the minutiae would constitute outright spoilers, the reveals are gut-punching when you hear them out loud, but yet elegantly simple and predictable when you think about it for a second or two. Tomlin is regarded as one of the fastest-rising purveyors of genre fare in Hollywood for a reason, and it’s his seamless ability to play the hits that you love while still leaving you wondering if you’ve just heard the original or a brand new cover version that gained him the reputation in the first place.
We saw it in Project Power where the superhero origin story was given a fresh coat of paint, we’re sure to see it when Robert Pattinson debuts as the Dark Knight in The Batman, and he may even be the guy to get Terminator right for the first time in two decades after being tasked by Netflix to develop an anime-inspired series based on the classic franchise.
Mother/Android isn’t all that it could have been, and it’s got a fairly saggy middle section despite only running for less than two hours, but it’s a stark, singular and engrossing piece that really sings when it hits those narrative and performative high notes. Look elsewhere if all you want is action, but as a thought-provoking sci-fi that simultaneously subverts and upends expectations despite leaning hard into them either directly before or after, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Mother/Android isn't the sci-fi movie you think it's going to be, or even the movie it probably wants to be, but it's nonetheless a solid first-time feature from from writer/director Mattson Tomlin.