In ‘Mother/Android,’ a Robopocalypse Becomes a Bland Survival Game

Hulu’s “Mother/Android” wants us to shed tears of despair over a mundane apocalypse you should definitely avoid watching on a cloudy day. There’s a curious irony to this film’s title, since like an android, this movie is put together from various parts borrowed from other movies. It’s another example of a blender flick, where you recognize ideas from other thrillers meshed together. Now, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the film were exciting, but it isn’t. Director Mattson Tomlin, making his feature debut, believes that to be taken seriously you need to be dreary in every frame. In a standoff between humans and machines, it’s hard here to tell the difference between the two in what amounts to such a coldly executed film

“Mother/Android” begins with a classic bit of tech paranoia. A young couple, Georgia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Sam (Algee Smith), discover they are going to be parents. Sam looks more scared than enthused, but such is life. Then during a party the android butler goes haywire and thus begins a mass uprising of androids all over. Neighborhoods are in flames, the machines are in rebellion. Fast forward a few months later and a very pregnant Georgia and Sam are trekking through the woods, trying to avoid roaming androids and seeking passage to a Boston hospital so she can give birth. Along the way they survive getting chased by the robotic rebels and find temporary safety at a military camp. Sam ruins it by getting into a fight with a soldier and back they go into the woods for more obstacles. 

What follows is a point A to point B story that doesn’t amount to much. Tomlin’s screenplay likes the concepts of movies like “The Matrix,” “The Road” and “A.I.,” but lacks their world-building or sense for real drama. The couple gets momentarily separated, Georgia finds refuge for three minutes with some wacky refugee, a former engineer who has designed vests that can make humans invisible to the androids. Off she goes to get trapped inside a house where killer androids break off the legs of unlucky human captives. The dialogue is so mundane we welcome the one motorcycle chase in the movie or close-up of some cackling android skull. The cinematography by Patrick Scola is drained of all life and color, as if he applied some filter called “nuclear winter.” 

Moretz and Smith are fine actors who have both been in some excellent films like “First Reformed” and “The Hate U Give.” Yet their relationship in “Mother/Android” lacks real sparks. They seem so miserable together we wonder why they didn’t just break up when they had the chance. The pair does have one or two sweet moments when discussing what to name the baby. Tomlin throws in some of that apocalyptic nostalgic melancholy when they find an abandoned polaroid camera, then discuss what to snap with the last picture. A challenge is finding greater emotion within a threadbare plot recycling speculative science fiction. 

“Mother/Android” makes it to a finish line that frantically pounds on every button for “sad ending” in the cinema catalog. We’ve been following this couple through thick and thin for nearly two hours only to discover that in the end there is no hope, just bitter tears and cold stares from Korean officials. Any subject can be turned into a strong, serious piece of film, but “Mother/Android” doesn’t really earn its despairing finale. Nothing has been learned along the way that differs from a typical sci-fi romp. We don’t get to know the enemy because they are actors shaded in much shadow to be differentiated as androids. When Georgia has a mental montage imagining what could have been in a better world, those brief moments look like a better movie hiding within this one. It’s the one moment with real heart in a thriller that’s as cold as a metallic surface.

Mother/Android” begins streaming Dec. 17 on Hulu.