A risk-management consultant is sent in to decide the fate of a malfunctioning synthetic human, in this sci-fi thriller
Director: Luke Scott
Starring: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie
Genre: Thriller / Sci-Fi
Release date: September 2, 2016
Running time: 92 mins
The directorial debut of Luke Scott (son of Ridley), this stylish sci-fi thriller owes a significant debt to Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina, with which it shares a similar set-up and location, while putting an intriguing spin on the initial set-up.
For the most part, Morgan is largely successful, creating a suspenseful atmosphere and throwing up some thought-provoking ideas, before ultimately resorting to standard action beats in a faintly disappointing finale.
Kate Mara stars as Lee Weathers, a coolly detached risk-management consultant who arrives at a remote concrete compound, having been ordered to investigate the case of a malfunctioning synthetic human (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan), following a violent incident with one of the attendant scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Though technically only five years old, Morgan resembles a teenager, and it’s clear that the science team – headed by Dr Ziegler (Toby Jones) – have formed a protective familial bond with her, leading to increasing tension and resentment as it becomes clear that Weathers intends to shut down the project.
Films about mad-made creations (be they humanoid, robot or monster) usually centre on whether or not they have feelings and emotions.
Seth Owen’s clever script (snapped up from the 2014 Black List) gives that idea a neat twist, investing Morgan with dangerously amped-up emotional impulses that need to be put in check if the project is to continue (basically, she’s an unfettered Id).
Taylor-Joy creates a suitably chilling figure as Morgan, complete with pallid complexion, eerily dark eyes and an ever-present, potentially iconic grey hoodie that makes her look like simultaneously like a supernatural presence or the villain in a slasher movie.
Mara is equally good as Weathers – her unsettling chilliness providing an effective counter-point to Morgan – and there’s strong support from Jones, Michelle Yeoh and Rose Leslie as the various scientists, as well as a film-stealing appearance from the always-excellent Paul Giamatti as an arrogant psychiatric evaluator whose interview with Morgan doesn’t quite go as planned.
Scott maintains a palpably suspenseful atmosphere, heightened by some impressive production design work on the concrete bunker, contrasted with lush woodland exteriors by Mark Patton’s stylish cinematography.
In addition, the script raises some tantalising possibilities (Morgan’s feelings for Rose Leslie’s compassionate behaviourist, or the way she views Yeoh’s character as her mother), though it ultimately abandons them in favour of the sort of generic action-packed climax that you suspect was dictated by test audiences.
Despite an overly familiar final act, this is an enjoyably tense sci-fi thriller, bolstered by superb performances and stylish direction that suggests Luke Scott could be a talent to watch.