‘I Am Mother’ review: Newcomer Clara Rugaard carries Netflix sci-fi thriller 

Clara Rugaard stars in "I Am Mother." Photo Credit: Netflix

Netflix's new sci-fi thriller also stars Hilary Swank and Rose Byrne.

Clara Rugaard stars in "I Am Mother."
Clara Rugaard stars in "I Am Mother." Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

‘I Am Mother’

Directed by Grant Sputore

Starring Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank, Clara Rugaard

Rated TV-14

Streaming on Netflix

A.I. — can’t live with it, can’t live without it. So it goes in “I Am Mother,” a moody but overlong sci-fi thriller about the dodgy dynamic between robots and the people who give them life.

That concept of creation gets inverted from the get-go in a bright stroke by writer Michael Lloyd Green and director Grant Sputore. Mother, a one-eyed bot with the voice of Rose Byrne, boots up and gets busy in a vast bunker. Programmed for repopulation now that people are extinct, Mother pops one of the 63,000 human embryos stored in the facility into an incubator and — in short order — a baby girl emerges. It gives new meaning to being an only child.

Called Daughter, the girl grows into a well-adjusted teen (Clara Rugaard) with ballet and engineering skills, a strong moral compass and philosophical perspective, plus a Drybar-worthy blowout. For Daughter, what Mother says goes, including that life is unsustainable outside their sealed bunker.

But is it? Everything changes when a woman (Hilary Swank, channeling Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2”), comes knocking — and bleeding. Daughter defies Mother’s warnings and opens the door for the stranger, who’s been shot, she claims, by a machine just like Mother. Has Mother lied? Is the woman truthful? Are there more people out there — as in, teenage boys?

All is eventually revealed when the action moves outside the compound and back again and the plot twists and turns. The burning question: Can A.I. be trusted? It’s a theme that’s been mined many times, from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Ex Machina” and beyond.

While the movie, streaming on Netflix, covers familiar territory and should be tighter, it has atmosphere to burn, and solid turns from newcomer Rugaard, who does the heavy lifting, two-time Oscar winner Swank, and Mother, who, thanks to Byrne’s line readings, sounds anything but canned.

Joe Dziemianowicz