IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 92 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Risk management consultant Lee Weathers arrives at an isolated mansion in the middle of nowhere. There, scientists have created a being from scratch they call Morgan. Walking and talking within one month and self-sufficient after just six, her rapid progression was remarkable, far exceeding the expectations of her creators, but then Morgan attacked one of the scientists and was quarantined. Lee, who represents the company which funded the project, is there to determine whether or not to terminate Morgan before she can cause any more havoc or escape to the outside world….
Twists. O how I love ‘em. While there are many that don’t make much sense if you think about them, I’m such a sucker for a shock revelation at the end of a film, and it helps that I’m crap at guessing them. However, something odd happened with Morgan which immediately made the film go down in my estimation ten minutes into it. Not only did I think that I’d worked put a supposedly audacious reveal that would occur at the end, but a dialogue scene between two of the characters and the acting of one of the cast members involved seemed to make it pretty obvious- which would actually mean that it’s more scriptwriter Seth Owen’s fault for not foreshadowing things subtly enough and the fault of one of the cast member’s fault for not acting subtly enough rather than me being clever. Some time later I did wonder if it had been a red herring, but this ended up not being the case. So a big air of disappointment couldn’t help but dominate for me the directorial debut of Luke Scott, the son of Ridley, though otherwise it isn’t bad really, especially if taken more as a ‘B’ sci-fi/horror rather than a look at the moral and ethical implications of genetically crafting a biological being from scratch.
Of course it’s basically Ex Machina [though the script for Morgan was written before Alex Garland’s fine picture] with a dash of Splice. In fact there’s been quite a few films dealing with these or similar issues of late and they will probably continue to be made as progress [if you can really call it that] in the real world increasingly catches up with them. Morgan doesn’t really have much of an identity of its own though it is quite well done within its limits. While not showing the immense skill and tremendous style that his father showed with his first picture [not to mention his second], Jake Scott certainly knows what he’s doing and if he can work with a much stronger script next time round then maybe he’ll come up with a movie more worthy of the great legacy of his father. As it stands, Morgan is okayish if you lower your expectations and don’t expect much intellectual content like we got from Ex Machina, though once again the trailer probably reveals too much. Apparently it was assembled by what actually was artificial intelligence [Skynet can’t be that far off now] which analysed hundreds of horror/thriller movie trailers, then, after supposedly learning what keeps audiences on the edge of their seats, suggested the top ten best bits from Morgan for use in its trailer. Interesting this may be, but surely top ten is a bit too much?
The opening scene certainly grabs you. Shown from the point of view of a ceiling camera, we witness Morgan being talked to by Kathy Grieff and then viciously attacking her. It’s quite audacious in the way that it immediately makes us afraid of Morgan, yet when we spend some time with her a bit later she becomes quite sympathetic, at least for a while. In fact she’s possibly more likeable than “risk management consultant” Lee Weathers, who immediately comes across as rather arrogant and cold. Through her we meet lead scientists Dr. Simon Ziegler and Dr. Lui Cheng, who are both worried and disappointed with what has just happened, not surprising considering that Morgan is their third attempt at a synthetic human, the previous two attempts quickly developing interior features externally [some brief but rather disturbing news-type footage here] and mental problems respectively. Then there’s behavioural expert Amy Menser, who acted as surrogate mother in Morgan’s early emotional development, Kathy, who despite having had one of her eyes gouged out by her defends Morgan and says that: “She just got it all mixed up”, and a few other doctors and scientists, plus Skip Vronsky, who isn’t a doctor or scientist [in fact it’s not clear what he is unless I missed it]. He almost seems to serve as a love interest for Lee, but thankfully no romance occurs.
It’s all very slow and talky for at least half of the film’s running time, which would be fine if the characters seemed like real people and/or were interesting, but instead they seem merely functional. Some beautifully photographed flashback scenes of Morgan and Amy out in the woods do give us a break from the main locale which isn’t really used as well as it could have been. Then we get the big scene where things change, the film bringing on Paul Giamatti as a psychologist asked to test Morgan. Their lengthy scene together is tense fun though it’s hard to work out, a) why he doesn’t have one of the several tranquiliser guns around considering how badly the last time Morgan was seated opposite somebody went, and b), why he gets so aggressive and provokes her so much. And then it’s semi-slasher stuff, the killings [brutal though not dwelt upon], chases and fights being quite well staged, and the climactic scuffle in the woods being especially admirably done, though some of the characters do behave a bit stupidly. At one point one character has a rifle on Morgan, but rather than shoot her, he goes up close to her and tries to get her to calm down, then paying for his dumbness with his life.
Of course all the stuff in the second half means that the more philosophical aspects in the first half aren’t developed. In fact they’re virtually forgotten about. Quite a few films in the past have shown that it’s possible for a film to be an intelligent, thought provoking piece of science fiction and an exciting crowd pleaser at the same time, but Morgan just feels like two separate films joined together. Of course the story still raises important and interesting questions. If an artificially created being looks and acts like a human, is it one? Does it have autonomy or can it be “owned”? It’s very disappointing though that once Morgan becomes the villain in a slasher movie there’s no more attempt to make the viewer have some sympathy for her [or is it “it”?] and we could have done with more background concerning her too. Some things don’t make sense, such as why she’s a martial arts expert when she was supposedly only raised with love. Even the supposed final revelation reveals a story point that I won’t describe but which doesn’t convince whatsoever. Morgan is definitely watchable – in fact it’s a bit more than watchable – but it just seems to scratch the surface of its premise and its story, which wouldn’t be that bad a thing if it’s early scenes didn’t promise so much more.
It’s really the script that is the major factor in letting the side down, though truth be told some of the acting is a little ropey too, the usually excellent Toby Jones seeming like he’s in it just for the pay check, while I’m just not convinced that Kate Mara [unlike her superb sister] is much of an acting talent at all. Here, she’s either a bit wooden or seems to misjudge scenes. At least Anya Taylor-Joy, following on from her incredible performance in The Witch, really does what she can with the underdeveloped Morgan and successfully projects evil and a strange kind of vulnerability at the same time. The electronic, somewhat 80’s-style score by the underrated Max Richter does its best to create the right mood. Morgan seems to be performing abysmally at the box office, and that’s not something it really deserves. But it could and should have been a whole lot better, and is a reminder that it’s no good delving into lofty themes if you then just decide to give up on them.