Morgan (2016)

Don’t let it out

Throughout his extensive filmmaking career, director Ridley Scott has taken audiences on a fascinating trip through the deepest, darkest crooks of space, the 78-year-old delivering a number of genre defying hits such as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Prometheus (2012) and even 2015’s The Martian. Thus, it’s no surprise to find his son, Luke Scott, following in his daddy’s footsteps. Making his directorial debut with the sci-fi thriller Morgan, Luke Scott attempts to investigate the world of artificial intelligence and synthetic lifeforms, just like his father before him (who, here, serves a as producer).

'Our little breakthrough.'
‘Our little breakthrough.’

Morgan follows Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a hard-edged troubleshooter who’s been sent to a remote part of the woods to assess the viability of a project that’s been taking place in secret, where a team of scientists have synthetically created a young girl with an extremely amplified set of skills for corporate research — ‘the L9 prototype’ which they’ve named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). Although having bonded with her handlers, there has been an ‘incident’ or ‘setback’ at the facility, one that’s left psychoanalyst Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seriously injured — Morgan viciously attacking the helpless therapist. With the icy-cold Lee snooping around — tasked with deciding whether or not the assignment should be terminated — the child-like Morgan, who resides in a glass-y observation room, is pushed to her limits, particularly by psychologist Dr. Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), who threatens to expose her unstable side, which could ultimately bring about her undoing.

To be fair, director Scott tries to explore hefty thought-provoking themes — chiefly those associated with the theory of Frankenstein’s monster and what it means to be human, along with the dangers of tampering with the natural order of things — all before sinking back into generic B-movie territory, Morgan morphing into a silly run-of-the-mill slasher that sees the titular character pick off cast members one by one. Even with its gaps in logic, there are still some good moments scattered throughout, mainly flashbacks of Morgan’s accelerated growth period that show behaviorist Amy Menser (Rose Leslie) developing feelings for the A.I., the young doctor at odds with their growing bond. Another neat concept is that of the crew’s emotional attachment to their ‘baby,’ their love for Morgan causing them to ignore her rising level of threat: think nurture vs. nature — ideas that the exposition-heavy script by Seth W. Owen, Peepers (2010), could’ve surveyed a little deeper. There are also a couple of obvious twists in the story that are revealed way too early on, this due to poor misdirection from the rookie filmmaker.

'I'm starting to feel like myself.'
‘I’m starting to feel like myself.’

Polished and refined, Morgan captures its claustrophobic setting perfectly thanks to cinematographer Mark Patten, Blood Orange (2016), who knows exactly how to shoot isolated confined spaces, this sterile, concrete-grey environment working well against the facility’s lush woodsy surrounding, which Morgan is allowed to visit before her violent tendencies become known, the outdoors working as a stark temptation for the still-developing lifeform. However, Morgan’s whole slick aesthetic, coupled with its subject matter, will most likely remind viewers of Alex Garland’s superior and similarly themed sleeper hit, Ex Machina (2015).

Acting wise, the cast ranges from okay to good, with the exception being a terrific Paul Giamatti — but more on him later. The porcelain-looking Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch (2015), is solid as Morgan, who’s only five chronological years old, Taylor-Joy doing her best to infuse the character with an eerie otherworldliness — it’s just a shame that her face is concealed under a clouded hoodie for the majority of the film. Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), is wasted as analyst Dr. Lui Cheng, a quiet woman haunted by the blow of a previous biotech failure, whilst Toby Jones, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), is decent as Simon Ziegler, the project’s chief scientist who acts as though he’s a proud papa showing off his favorite child. Elsewhere, Boyd Holbrook, The Skeleton Twins (2014), supplies the bulk of the flick’s comic relief as cook and nutritionist Skip Vronsky, while Chris Sullivan, Vinette Robinson and Michael Yare are forgettable as the remaining researchers on the team. Then there’s Paul Giamatti, The Illusionist (2006), who certainly leaves a dent in his minor role as Dr. Alan Shapiro, a taunting shrink whose all-too-brief interrogation sequence stands as the movie’s high point.

Proceed with caution!
Proceed with caution!

While its final stretch is a bit of a let down, Morgan still offers plenty to savor by means of haunting imagery and taut suspense, this sleek picture perhaps existing as evidence that Scott junior may have some filmmaking talent in his DNA. Let’s just hope that this isn’t simply a case of Luke proving to his father that he can make movies, too — especially given Morgan’s climactic showdown that sees two strong women face-off against one another. Feels awfully similar to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley versing the big bad alien queen, if you ask me!

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Morgan is released through 20th Century Fox Australia