Near miss

“What did you think would happen? Ever seen <i>Metropolis</i>? <i>The Stepford Wives</i>? <i>Terminator</i>?”

“What did you think would happen? Ever seen Metropolis? The Stepford Wives? Terminator?”

Director: Luke Scott

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti

While director Luke Scott definitely shows he’s inherited some of his dad’s helming chops, Morgan, his feature directing debut, is hampered by an ultimately derivative script. The son of the great Ridley Scott shows some major visual flair and an ability to draw good performances from his cast, but the movie itself, with Dad producing, is a pastiche of other science fiction and horror films, most notably his dad’s own Blade Runner.

Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an artificially created humanlike being. (I guess that’s the best way to describe it.) She’s only five but looks like a teenager and has superior intellect and physical skills. She’s been genetically engineered to age quickly, and while she is basically a well-meaning entity, her behavioral wires get a little crossed up sometimes, resulting in violent “errors.”

Morgan goes apeshit when she’s not allowed outside. This results in the character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh being on pain meds for the whole movie with a big, bloody gauze on her eye. The “corporation” that helped create Morgan sends icy company woman Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) out to assess the matter and recommend a course of action.

The setting for the film is visually pleasing—an underground laboratory in the middle of a pine forest. This also gives the film a combined sense of isolation and claustrophobia, much like John Carpenter’s The Thing, minus the snow. Morgan lives in a room always monitored through a glass wall and video cameras (shades of Ex Machina).

Giving another great 2016 performance—after The Witch—that puts her in the running for Breakout Actress of the Year, Taylor-Joy gives Morgan some compelling dimension. Dressed in a gray hoodie and sporting a silvery skin tone that makes her look like a skater girl with shit makeup skills, Taylor-Joy rises well above the conventionality of the role. She delivers a tragic android who probably would’ve led an interesting life had her personality dials been turned down just a tad in the test tubes.

Mara’s presence feels a little off, something that the story eventually explains in a fashion that isn’t as shocking as screenwriter Seth W. Owen wants it to be. Paul Giamatti shows up as a behavior therapist who intentionally pushes Morgan’s buttons during a personality test. His part equates to that of the goat tied up for the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, his fate all too easy to see.

The cast is peppered with a few more greats, including Toby Jones as the lead scientist with a big, unnatural attachment to his creation. Michelle Yeoh also shows up as another scientist and Morgan’s mother figure, while the aforementioned Leigh has a few scenes that she imbues with her usual reliability.

It all looks good thanks to stellar work from cinematographer Mark Patten, who worked in the “camera department” for Ridley Scott’s The Martian and Exodus: Gods and Kings. It’s an impressive debut for Patten, while Max Richter provides an excellent soundtrack.

All of these good performances, great visuals, and slick sounds make it all the more a bummer that the movie feels a bit stale in the end. I, for one, was not at all happy with the payoff, a big twist that felt completely unnecessary and cheap. Had the movie wrapped up on a more original note, it could’ve qualified as decent enough genre fare.

Morgan is a near miss. A few too many scenes play out in a way that will have you guessing accurately as to what happens next. Scott will construct a scene with major tension, but then it falls flat due to the predictability. The Giamatti scene is a major example.

It does continue the promising career of Taylor-Joy, who almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. She’s not finished with horror films—she will headline the scary-looking Split from the mildly resurgent M. Night Shyamalan next year.

As for Scott, he might be a director to keep an eye on. Daddy just needs to find his boy a better script to play with the next time out.