A forgettable post-apocalyptic pastiche that borrows liberally from “The Terminator,” “The Last of Us,” and “A Quiet Place” without building upon those influences with any new ideas of its own, Mattson Tomlin’s “Mother/Android” is the sort of mediocre streaming fare that might appease genre fans for 100 minutes or so, but will almost certainly leave them pining for the days when original sci-fi movies demanded (or at least encouraged) a modicum of originality. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about this ultra-depressing slice of Hulu for the holidays is that it’s never quite as clumsy as its title. Ditto Chloë Grace Moretz’s fiercely tender lead performance as a very pregnant young woman trying to deliver her baby without being killed by robots; the “Greta,” “Suspiria,” and “Shadow in the Cloud” actress has spent the last few years cutting her teeth as a B-movie star with A-movie grit, and the raw emotion she’s able to rescue from the rushed final minutes of this misadventure is a pure testament to the craft she’s been able to hone over that time.
Moretz plays Georgia, a vanilla American girl who exchanges midterms for pregnancy tests when she comes home from college over Christmas break. We first meet her during a house party she’s throwing for her friends — they’re all having a good time in the kitchen, while Georgia is locked in the bathroom with her boyfriend Sam (“The Hate U Give” breakout Algee Smith) and staring at a stick with two lines through it. Nothing about this seems heightened in any way, and it’s only when the male model–looking housekeeper wishes Sam a “happy Halloween” that we sense a possible glitch in the matrix. “Eli,” it turns out, isn’t just a hired hand on loan from the local Abercrombie store; he’s one of the extremely lifelike androids that have become as endemic to Georgia’s world as iPhones are to ours. And like all of the other bestsellers manufactured by Raster Robotics, Eli is about to go homicidal and help engineer the mass extermination of humankind.
That’s about as much context as you can expect to get from “Mother/Android,” as world-building isn’t much of a priority for Tomlin’s threadbare script. This is more of an experiential saga, one that jumps ahead to approximately nine months after the singularity, and sticks close to its leads as they try to sneak their way through the no-man’s land that separates Georgia and Sam from the Boston hospital where she can safely give birth.
The androids are everywhere, they look like anyone, and the verifiable humans that our heroes encounter don’t seem all that concerned about propagating their species; not only is Georgia denied the kind of sacred treatment that Kee received in “Children of Men,” she and her partner are kicked out of a military base after Sam gets into a fight with one of the local alphas. The world is a lonely place for people who care about each other, and that disquieting hostility is all that propels “Mother/Android” through one generic scene after another as Georgia, her accidental baby daddy, and their imminent son or daughter sneak through the woods in search of protection (the film was shot at the height of the pandemic, and does what it can to squeeze the most out of a small cast and some dull outdoor locations).
The parental dynamic between Georgia and Sam is boiled down to the bare essentials, and most of the very basic chatter between them (e.g. What will they name the kid? What should they do with the last remaining photo inside the Polaroid camera they find?) only exists to establish a certain emotional co-dependence. These people belong to each other, even when it might be more pragmatic for them to go their separate ways. Robots are ruthlessly logical — humans, not so much. Of course it’s only a matter of time before Georgia and Sam get separated, and one of them is presented with an opportunity to make a break for it courtesy of a former android engineer played by Raúl Castillo. He supplies Georgia with a silly-looking prototype spike vest that makes her invisible to mechanical eyes so long as she stays completely silent, but the device is mostly useful as an excuse to push Moretz through some flimsy stealth sequences that help illustrate the difference between “us” and “them.”
It’s all so “robot apocalypse 101” that viewers will likely grow restless waiting for the other shoe to drop — for something to complicate this too-simple narrative and the straightforward run-and-gun style with which Tomlin’s debut has rendered it. That transformative moment never comes, but the third act of “Mother/Android” raises the stakes with enough urgency to become the most gripping part of the movie all the same, particularly as Moretz’s performance falls on the double-edged sword of the love that keeps people going — and threatens to tear them apart. Far too much of the film’s emotion is conveyed through voiceover during the framing device that bookends the story, as if they simply forgot to include it during principal photography, but all’s well that ends well. For a movie, anyway, if not the human race.
“Mother/Android” will be available to stream on Hulu starting Friday, December 17.