Is I Am Mother a Prequel to Portal?

So last night I watched the new Netflix-exclusive, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller I Am Mother – the directorial debut for Grant Sputore and the first feature-length screenwriting outing for Michael Lloyd Green. Neither of the two creative headliners had made particular waves in the industry until the release of I Am Mother, but the script appeared on the Black List in 2016 – a list of the top-voted screenplays yet to be produced – and is currently sitting at a rather fresh 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. The script has been floating around for some time now and Netflix were quick to seize it when they realised it fits neatly into that tried and tested formula most recently exercised by 10 Cloverfield Lane.

As much as the film is a tightly-wound, engaging sci-fi thriller that touches on some prescient themes around what it means to be human, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen it all before – and I don’t just mean the film’s recycled formula. The character designs, their personalities, as well as the overarching narrative all bear a striking resemblance to Valve’s Portal series. I’m ready to be stood corrected and perhaps I just have Portal on the mind and it has clouded my judgement, but I am convinced of foul-play and hopefully I can convince you too. Be warned, there will be multiple spoilers here but if you don’t mind try and stay with me as I break down the slew of similarities between these two science fiction tales.

First off here are the synopses for both I Am Mother and Portal so as to not lead anyone with my own biases; I’ll then try to deconstruct where I feel the similarities lie throughout the film and you can make up your own minds whether or not these are intentional. First up, I Am Mother:

A teenage girl is raised underground by a kindly robot “Mother” — designed to repopulate the earth following the extinction of mankind. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news.

Next up, the synopses for Portal and Portal 2 respectively; I have inserted both here as they have a relevance which I will delve into later on:

A test subject wakes up in a scientific facility controlled by a sadistic artificial intelligence and must escape with the help of the only instrument she has–a gun that makes portals.

Many years after “Portal,” Chell reawakens at Aperture Science and tries to stop GLADoS once again with the help of Wheatley, who has his own plans for the historical facility.

Right off the bat, the film’s titular character Mother, the matriarchal droid that cares for the protagonist Daughter is conspicuously similar to the Portal series’ infamous antagonist GLaDOS. Both in design and demeanor the two characters display that over-bearing and claustrophobic motherly charm reminiscent of Carrie’s religious Mother and the robotic, yet unnervingly insidious tone for which GLAdOS is so infamous. Not to mention both characters are caretakers of a secret underground facility that nurtures a young woman for the supposed “greater good” of humanity. Factor in the overtly similar character designs (albeit Mother has an anthropomorphic body whereas GLAdOS is less so) and you have a recipe with more than a couple of similar tasting ingredients. Here’s a comparison of the two characters to try illustrate how similar their designs are:

This was the first comparison that I noticed, and as the story of I Am Mother progresses it became clearer to me that Portal’s GLAdOS was more than just an inspiration or passing nod to the series. I Am Mother begins in the aforementioned underground facility, where the viewer is to believe that humanity has been wiped from the face of the earth; nuclear war and a contagion that followed has caused the extinction of the human race, and Mother has been tasked with repopulating the Earth; starting with Daughter.

The first thirty minutes or so of the film serves to show how Mother nurtures Daughter throughout her childhood – educating her, playing games and generally carrying out the duties any Mother would. It is not until Daughter reaches adolescence that the film’s second act takes off, and the not-so caring side of Mother begins to show. After a mouse that Daughter finds is unceremoniously incinerated, Mother suggests that it is time to complete another seemingly regular examination – a test of Mother’s abilities as much as her “daughter’s”. Although dissimilar enough to Portal here not to turn too many heads, the overarching idea that the caretaker robot of a secret underground facility in which only one human lives – who is subjected to regular testing for the sake of its own merit – is a narrative thread pivotal to the relationship between Chell (Portal’s protagonist and the player-character) and GLAdOS.

Mother’s control over Daughter is tested when a stranger known only as The Drifter threatens to shatter the reality carefully orchestrated by the film’s leading robot; ultimately to the point where Daughter has no choice but to question everything she knows. Now, although the first entry in the Portal series does not see a third character brought into the mix, the second entry Portal 2 introduces Wheatley, a damaged artificially intelligent core that acts as the player’s sidekick/navigator – until its ulterior motives are laid bare in the game’s second act. Wheatley’s understanding of the true nature of the facility’s ins-and-outs allow the player to navigate environments not seen in the first title, and reveal another side to GLAdOS that completely changes how Chell (or the player) views the in-game world. Not dissimilar to the effect The Drifter has on Daughter; her opinion of the droids and access to the outside world have irreparably changed her perspective on the facility in which she now feels trapped. Admittedly, at this point the two plots deviate for a time, in which Portal 2 sees GLAdOS attached to a potato as Wheatley becomes the new all-seeing eye of the facility, building hamstrung tests for the player to navigate. However, the introduction of both characters happens at a similar turning point in the narrative, and sets up a final act that uses not only tellingly identical imagery and design, but concludes in a all-too congruous fashion.

The films final act sees Daughter escape Mother and the underground facility to discover that The Drifter – although truthful in her explanation that the world is not in fact stricken with contagion – was lying about the group of friends she was supposed to be holed up with in a nearby mining tunnel. Daughter is in fact the only survivor she knows of, and is living in a shipping container with a dog. In realising this, Daughter dashes through a series of corn fields camouflaging the facility to confront Mother one last time, in the hopes of nurturing her newborn “brother” – another embryo from the facility that has been artificially conceived. She is met by an army of similar droids who after focusing their laser sights on her, agree to let her pass when she insists of speaking to Mother.

The final sequence sees Daughter realise that the anthropomorphic form that Mother inhabits is but a vessel, and that she in fact spearheads the entire operation; a single consciousness that controls all the droids and machines on Earth. In a touching scene, Mother agrees to let Daughter raise the child on her own, and inherit the facility in order to repopulate Earth in her image.

Now, there are a number of points here – specifically relating to the film’s design and imagery – that are incredibly reminiscent of those used in Portal. First off, the outfit that Daughter wears in the final scenes – her overalls with the top half tied round her waist – is almost identical to that worn by Chell:

On top of this, in the final scene of Portal 2 the player sees Chell face an army of turrets who agree to let her pass, despite their red laser sights focused ready to fire:

In an endearing scene that sees GLAdOS empathise with the game’s protagonist in an unseen act of kindness, she is thrust from the facility into…you guessed it – cornfields. This may seem like a pedantic parallel to draw here but considering the other striking resemblances it is not a huge stretch to assume that the setting could have also been pulled straight from the video game series’ final act. Looking at other similarities in the imagery used by both Portal and I Am Mother, there are clear commonalities between the Portal series’ Ratman character and his den (only alluded to through a series of drawings) and the religious and portrait scribblings on the walls of The Drifter’s shipping container:

The as yet growing cornfields, technology that is not quite as new-age as Portal and Mother’s lack of sadistic pleasure in forcing test subjects to complete complex puzzles ad infinum suggest that perhaps this was intended to be a prequel to Portal rather than a direct copy. This would make a lot of sense as it is quite common for screenwriters to spitball ideas based on twisting pre-existing stories to their liking – Netflix’s Bright (although it did not have quite the same critical success…) was a musing on what the Lord of the Rings universe would look like in the modern day. This idea seems to ring true with a lot of what is presented in I Am Mother as much of what Mother is trying to do with the facility still seems very much in its infancy. It’s possible that as time passes and Mother becomes less tolerant of humans and their desire for trivial things like freedom, food and sleep, the mundane tests that Daughter is forced to complete begin to morph into something more insidious (and involving portals). The Drifter is a sign of things to come, as more subjects are cast out of the facility for not following orders, or simply descend into madness living inside the facility, just like Ratman in Portal. Either way, the similarities here are too prevalent to ignore, but as yet I have been unable to source a comment from either Sputore or Green on the “inspiration” that Portal has clearly given them.

Now, all these comparisons that I have made could be chalked down to the aesthetics being typical of the genre, especially the similar design of the facility as well as the robot itself – but when you consider the parallels that can be drawn from the personalities of the main characters, their actions and the setup of the plot, there are undeniable similarities that are difficult to un-see if you are a fan of the Portal series. The plot of I Am Mother is not something entirely new – recent efforts like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Panic Room, and Room all revolve around similar plot devices and setups, and the undeniable inspiration of science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey is present in both the Portal series and I Am Mother. However, the narrative beats and timing of both of these stories seems far too similar to acknowledge as simply a trope or homage. Whether this was the intention of the screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green, or the work of Grant Sputore in his directorial vision for the film’s aesthetic – I’m hesitant to believe that the (albeit thrilling and enjoyable) science fiction tale of claustrophobia and motherhood is any less than inspired by Valve’s iconic Portal series.

Find out what I’ve been up to since this article with Year Here

The Good, the Bad, the Weird of E3 2019: Part One

So, the biggest week in gaming is over – and after announcements aplenty, many rumors quashed, surprises revealed, a console teased, and much less cringe than anyone expected, it comes to a crashing halt as we all begin to feel the comedown effects of a seven-day bender. Donkey Kong’s gone out to get more cans, Master Chief’s invited all the Grunts round, Todd Howard’s getting handsy and Keanu’s doing gun-karta with Doug Bowser in the garden. Its all gone a bit Pete Tong and all you want is for everyone to leave and to lie in bed with a Chinese takeaway and watch endless episodes of Shark Tank on Netflix. But I digress; the monolithic videogame expo has come to a close, and with that comes a nauseating onslaught of retrospectives, listicles, vlogs and reviews – here’s mine.

The largely corporate affair is laden – no, practically oozing – with the sweet syrupy delights of video game announcements galore, and it is oh-so easy to get caught up in the frenzy. So naturally despite my better judgement I watched on eagerly, the rose-tinted glasses sat firmly and proudly on my nose. With this in mind I’ve decided to stifle my excitement, my criticisms and my thoughts for a few days so I can mull over what I saw and hopefully scrape away some of the shiny veneer of E3’s marketing and give it to you straight – what Brandon likey, no likey, and what was just plain odd. Let’s kick it off with the good stuff.

Gears 5 Escape Mode

Not the first time this Grandpa’s smelled it and dealt it

This is a bit of an odd one but hear me out – Gears of War has been a mainstay on consoles for a good few years now, and despite its front-facing macho, gun-toting, violent appearance the series has some of the most enjoyable and innovative gameplay of the past two generations. Gears of War 2’s Horde Mode was an inventive, fast-paced PvE mode that was imitated the world over, and I think that the introduction of Gears 5’s escape mode will send similar reverberations around the industry. Creating PvE content that can rival the high stakes, quick-on-your-feet thinking and blistering pace of the series’ PvP modes is not easy – and for a while Horde Mode scratched that itch for many; but the introduction of booster cards and the like in Gears of War 4 is an often telltale sign that things are taking a turn towards the sourer end of the palette (here’s looking at you Halo 5) .

Destiny 2’s recent Gambit mode was a novel take on introducing PvP pacing into PvE play – and Gears 5’s Escape Mode seems like an interesting twist on this. Rather than running towards the threat, you’re running away from it – the noxious gas you just kindly deposited in the Swarm lair chasing you as you rush for the exit. Rather than actively trying to beat another team you’re trying to beat their score, which adds another deliciously competitive element into the mix. A host of new characters and the potential to create your own lairs makes this another content-rich mode that the team at Coalition can add to a growing roster of game variations. This was a surprise winner for me, and I think you can expect this to be a popular mode not just in Gears, but in other games that jump onto the rolling bandwagon of imitation once this releases.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

One of the new features allows you to customise your very own Wilson

It seems to become more difficult as years pass to find a game that is relaxing – most games seem to want all of my attention all of the time and if you’re not winning, you’re not having a good time. Thank the video game gods for Animal Crossing because I’ve spent countless dreamy hours on New Leaf fancifully picking apples, fishing up old boots and just having a real jolly time of it. New Horizons is exactly the kind of game where I can waste inordinate amounts of time saving in-game currency to buy a new television like a good Happy Home Designer, whilst simultaneously selling my own television because I can’t save real currency. The joys of video game escapism are truly at their finest in the wistful, care-free worlds of Animal Crossing – even Mr. Resetti is a sight for sore eyes in hard times.

New Horizons looks like an adorable Castaway, with palm trees galore, sprawling azure oceans and a “minimalist” home afforded to you by Tom Nook and his recently formed Nook Inc. As is normal in the Animal Crossing world, you are set the delightful tasks of building your home and making friends – a peaceful existence for which I can very much get on board. There’s been an Animal Crossing shaped hole in my heart since the fiddly days of the Nintendo DS stylus, and this revitalising move to the Switch is exactly what that void has been calling out for.


I’ve heard of government workers being called air-headed, but…

Now I’ve been following this game like it’s a Xenomorph on a motion scanner – with great unnerve and anticipation – and it looks set to deliver. Alan Wake was a true gem of the 360/PS3 generation and although I missed out on Quantum Break, Control looks set to push all of the same buttons that Alan Wake did and then some, going by whats been shown so far. It seems Remedy have learnt a lot about cinematic storytelling from their time making Quantum, and if there’s any testament to their prowess in delivering engaging combat mechanics it’s that they made a game where your best weapon is a flashlight.

The gleefully Lynch-esque sequence shown at E3 featuring the rambling Janitor peaked my interest in all the right ways, and the level of exploration and depth that Remedy are trying to pull off here inside the Brutalist architecture of its government building is sending all the right signals. Control looks set – in much the same way as Alan Wake – to show that the artistry of the video game medium comes not from how it can emulate film, television and the like (even if I do appreciate the nods to King, Lynch, and Serling), but in its unique ability to engage the player in a way that is impossible through any other artistic vehicle. Please don’t make me eat my words Remedy.

Gods and Monsters

“If I’m being honest Jo I thought the acid joke was quite funny, no need to get so angry”

As years have passed and Ubisoft title after Ubisoft title is thrown consumer’s way my love for sandbox games has fallen by the wayside, in no small part to their continued reliance on a tired, formulaic approach to open-world games. Realistic world-building takes centre-stage whilst enjoyable content and mission structure comes as an afterthought. Despite this, my appreciation for Ubisoft games – specifically the Assassins Creed series – has not faltered; the meticulous attention to detail in Ubisoft’s two most recent efforts – Origins and Odyssey – is unequivocally breathtaking. Their understanding of and tireless dedication to ancient history and mythology is second-to-none in the AAA space, and its high-time some of the devs at Ubisoft were given an opportunity to let this shine, away from the overcrowded hyper-realistic sandbox format.

Gods and Monsters is Ubi’s Breath of the Wild, and I’m okay with that. Horizon: Zero Dawn was an inspired title to say the least, as was Shadow of Mordor – but both games gave us much as they took stylistically and the industry is better for it. Hopefully the cartoon aesthetic, move to a less cutthroat space, and a fresh approach for the team will be the perfect remedy for what has been a downwards spiral (sorry) creatively for Ubisoft for some time now. Whatever Gods and Monsters becomes, they need to ensure that the gameplay innovations of Breath of the Wild are as much of an inspiration as its endearing art style – until then, my arms are wide open to see this new direction for Ubisoft take off.

The Outer Worlds

If only more conversations could end with “I’ve had enough of your nonsense. [Attack]”

I imagine that Obsidian are sick to death of hearing it by now and its white-hot tropical colour palette must have been a decided move to distance itself from the game everyone won’t stop comparing it to. So, in waxing lyrical about The Outer Worlds and out of respect to the developers I will do my utmost to refrain from referencing that game. I’ve chosen the screenshot above over the countless beautiful, interstellar vistas Obsidian have shown off over the past few months because I think it speaks to why so many people are excited for this game – myself included.

It looks like what Obsidian are going for here is complete role-playing freedom – perhaps not in the same way a Souls-like game has robust character creation, but more so that the narrative is molded by the player’s actions. Abilities and actions that can affect dialogue choices and narrative threads have always been conducive to the kind of games I like to play, and past experiences have shown that Obsidian know how to do this well. I like that the developers have taken a step into interplanetary science-fiction, but the benevolent corporate overlords shtick is getting a little tired. Nonetheless I have faith that a little bit of Obsidian magic will make this into a fully realised, engaging and tongue-in-cheek world that sets it apart from other similar titles out there. Look at that, I didn’t even have to mention Fallout: New Vegas.

12 Minutes

Terrifyingly tense 12 Minutes trailer takes 2 ticks to tell troubling tale of two tango teachers teasing treading trodden tracks to twist time in tall tenement tower test

New studio Nomada Interactive have likened their game to ” the dream-like suspense of THE SHINING with the claustrophobia of REAR WINDOW and the fragmented structure of MEMENTO”. Those are big claims and its going to be tough to silence critics, but the recent reveal trailer in Microsoft’s game-heavy press conference was a stand-out announcement, and has certainly been embedded in the minds of anyone who was watching last week.

Time-loop games seem to be remarkably popular at the moment considering the success of indie darling Minit and ex-Bioshock developers Mobius’ interplanetary folk tale Outer Wilds, and it seems to speak to a greater societal consensus at the moment; humankind seems hell-bent on repeating its past mistakes, and the powers that be seem all-too happy to let the world descend into chaos and oblivion without intervention. Games like 12 Minutes explore the notion of finding a solution in times of adversity and seemingly inevitable consequences, and I think that’s something many of us can get behind. Coupled with a decidedly eerie atmosphere, an intriguing narrative hook and scant on details, this game looks to tie neatly together elements of Heavy Rain’s crime storytelling, the tone of a PlayDead game and the claustrophobic puzzle-solving of flash games like Red/White Room. Colour me interested.

Honourable Mentions

Someone told me both of these deer are girls but I’m not sure if that’s two doe.

On top of the games that got the spotlight in this retrospective there are a few that didn’t get the star treatment, this is because I wanted to highlight the real standouts for me personally and avoid my more obvious excitement for other titles currently hitting the top of people’s wishlists. To those games that I’ve listed below, I love you just the same – here are some heartfelt words for those that didn’t make the cut:

  • Way to the Woods is a charming wee game with a humbling development story to boot – and as far as I’m concerned the more games without guns and where you can play as animals, the better off we all are.
  • What more can I say about Cyberpunk 2077 that hasn’t already been said? This game is numero uno for most anticipated game of the last few years and going by what has been shown so far that is no surprise – and with CDProjektRed’s dedication to crushing crunch that April 2020 release date doesn’t seem as far away as it could have.
  • No announcement at E3 this year made me quite as giddy as the Halo: Infinite trailer – I’m not sure if this was due to the excitement of new hardware in tow, or that darn Halo musical cue when the Pelican pilot wipes the glass to reveal Master Chief floating nonchalantly through space. Hopefully this is a return to form for the Halo series, and going by what they’ve said so far I have reason to believe it will be.
  • For the pure enjoyment I’m going to get from playing this game, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout gets a special mention. The thought of 100 of those little guys running through a Total Wipeout-style assault course already has me giggling. For a Battle Royale it’s about as far away as you can get from a murderous cohort of high-schoolers, and that’s why its so brilliant – why has nobody made this game already?
  • Finally, the surprise game on the tip of everyone’s tongues post-E3; Watch Dogs: Legion. Set in a dystopian London and touting the ability to play as any NPC, this sequel is the game my 10 year old self dreamed of playing. Not shying away from the political satire was also a good call, Far Cry 5 and the Division 2 got rather muddled trying to sanitise their clearly political narratives – this game makes a much clearer statement.

With that, my romantic musings on the upcoming games I long to play comes to a bittersweet end. There are so many more I feel woebegone to not include but even for someone who wears their heart on their sleeve, the E3 soirĂ©e is over and I only have so much love to give. Although this year’s Conference showed off a slew of fantastic projects on the horizons, it had its fair share of unmentionables and missteps that I will dissect with great schadenfreude over the coming days. Expect a dismantling of Epic (again, I’m sorry) proportions as I unwind the not-so fruitful labours of this year’s biggest week in gaming.