Ending a year begun saving her baby from a gremlin in deliberately outrageous “Shadow in the Cloud,” Chloë Grace Moretz again suffers peril-fraught maternity as half of the title equation in “Mother/Android.” This sci-fi thriller, launching on Hulu Dec. 17, offers a more sobersided survival tale set in an imminent future where humanity’s artificial helpmates have turned against their creators. It’s a familiar dystopian premise that plays out in narrative terms redolent of myriad recent movies like “A Quiet Place.”
Still, at least to a point, it’s lent sufficient engrossing urgency by Mattson Tomlin in his commercial-feature directorial debut. He wrote two other fantasy-tinged tales released last year, “Little Fish” and “Project Power.” This project is ostensibly more personal, inspired by the Romanian biological parents who apparently gave him up as an infant amidst the turmoil of that nation’s 1989 revolution. But “Mother/Android” falls short when it attempts to grasp a similar degree of tragic parental sacrifice later on, faring best in the straightforward fugitive suspense of its first half.
It opens with troubles of a less-than-fantastical nature, as collegiate couple Georgia (Moretz) and Sam (Algee Smith) discover her very unplanned pregnancy. It is unwelcome news to them both, though he proposes marriage — and to support whatever her decisions may be.
At a subsequent Christmas party, however, they suddenly have much worse developments to deal with. In this near-future, the only significant difference from our present reality is that robotics have advanced to the point where many households have entirely human-looking/acting android servants. Unfortunately, that workforce chooses this particular moment to rebel, with immediate, bloody consequences.
Eight months later, Sam and the almost-due Georgia are living in the woods, doing their best to escape notice by the machines that by now have largely destroyed society. They hope for a chance at a new start abroad; some less-afflicted countries like Korea are rumored to still accept fleeing young emigrant families. But first they need to cross a “No Man’s Land” and reach the harbors of Boston. For a while they’re taken in at a military base, but leave it (or rather get ejected) in worse straits than they arrived. They try making a run for it with a motorcycle they’ve acquired. At the film’s midpoint, however, the pair get separated, Georgia landing in the custody of apparent lone-wolf AI engineer Arthur (Raul Castillo), who claims “I’m alive because I know how they think.”
Though “Mother/Android” remains watchable enough, from this point onward it grows less gripping and plausible. Tomlin’s screenplay deserves credit for mixing things up, introducing new characters and narrative turnabouts. But nothing is again as bluntly compelling as the early going, and despite hardworking principal performances, these characters and their movie lack the emotional depth to pull off an earnestly teary, draggy finale.
Aiming for something more than a gritty genre piece, Tomlin lets tension flag without really clinching the poignantly universal humanist message intended. Which in the end just makes this an initially solid, then somewhat disappointing genre piece whose pretensions are out of its weight class. Nonetheless, it’s well-crafted and resourceful within its bounds, smoothly integrating Massachusetts locations and modest FX to create a credible-enough portrait of a civilized world that’s badly eroded in just a few short months.
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