With his directorial debut, Morgan, Luke Scott — son of Ridley Scott — can’t seem to see past his own ego to acknowledge inherit flaws in the script by screenwriter Seth W. Owen. In fact, Scott’s direction only enhances fundamental issues in this sci-fi/thriller’s logic. Scott’s seemingly giddy self-satisfaction at trying to present a twisting story is so much in the way of his storytelling that most people will see the film’s “surprise” ending coming within the first few seconds of the movie. All you have to do is not blink when you first see Kate Mara on screen to notice a tick that was supposed to be a quirk become a giveaway.
Morgan‘s disconnect continues from there. The younger Scott, who only has a short film, a single 1999 episode of “The Hunger,” and most recently second unit work on Exodus: Gods and Kings under his belt, shows little empathy for the film’s characters. I’ve never seen a cast full of characters with the title “Dr.” before their names act so collectively stupid. These main characters are those dim incidental extras with a few lines in movies like Firestarter who get in over their heads to only make some dumb mistake in order to keep the plot moving.
The film unfolds at a dusty old manor in the middle of a forest with an impeccable kitchen and a hunky chef (Boyd Holbrook) who can hunt for food. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an organically brewed up bundle of nanotechnology with an accelerated growth rate. She’s a corporate experiment living in an underground bunker at the back of the house. She is kept behind bulletproof glass, surrounded by cameras and technology, after she stabbed Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye. Mara plays Lee Weathers, a risk assessment analyst skilled in Krav Maga and packing a pistol, who pays this team of inept doctors a visit to see if their experiment is still viable for corporate.
But after five years, the scientists don’t want to let Morgan go, despite her homicidal tendencies. Rose Leslie is Dr. Amy Menser, the behavioral specialist who gets along with Morgan better than anyone else on her team. There’s Toby Jones playing the scientist who seems to think five years with Morgan (as you are oft reminded in the movie) is the best work he’ll ever do. His partner in this creation, Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) gets choked up when Morgan calls her “mother.” Dr. Darren Finch (Chris Sullivan) is Morgan’s keeper on the other side of the glass who can’t help but call her “buddy” all the time. He’s got a love interest in Dr. Brenda Finch (Vinette Robinson), who seems to be in the film for the sake of diversity. Finally, there’s Ted Brenner (Michael Yare), who wears a lab coat but doesn’t get the doctor title because he’s nothing more than Lee’s tour guide.
These doctors all set themselves up for their own undoing when some modicum of security and/or rationale would have helped. They are doctors, after all. Instead, they all fall enraptured with the pale, icy Morgan because — as flashbacks in montage remind the viewer — she was just a curious little girl (Amybeth McNulty) two years ago. They can’t help but call Morgan “her” instead of “it.” But if these characters were really smart about their actions, we would have no movie. Paul Giamatti makes an appearance as a psychologist tasked to test the sanity of this creation. As the scientists around him tangle with the private personal torture of struggling how to address Morgan, Giamatti’s Dr. Alan Shapiro has to remind them this thing is not human. But patronizing doesn’t really work in therapy.
We all know these kind of films bend science to fit the story or the scares (of which hardly work in Morgan, unless you’re squeemish about gore enhanced by sound design and editing). But this is the kind of movie that does no favors to careers in higher education, be they psychology or technology. The film’s premise is fueled by the sort of ignorance that preys on ill-informed fears of the public, the kind of fear that inspires people to call nanotechnology or genetic experimentation “dangerous” or inspires parents not to vaccinate their children.
Premise aside, that Morgan is presented with so much sincerity, including strong performances* all around that have no business in a B-movie like this, adds another level of failure to what is already a terribly disappointing film. Poignant moments between Morgan and Dr. Menser, the only human she has come to trust, are accented with a pretty piano score by Max Richter. That Morgan has killed most of the team by then seems not to matter. It’ll leave some audience members shaking their heads if not laughing outright.
Morgan is a movie so schlocky it’s unaware of its own schlockiness. For some, this is the perfect kind of so-bad-it’s-good movie. But, really, it’s just sad to watch a film tumble to bits because the director is out of touch with the material. The younger Scott’s debut is nothing but an insult to the audience and a disservice to such up and coming actresses in leading performances as Mara and Taylor-Joy.
*It is possible that Giamatti, however, saw through the sincerity, as he gives quite a vicious performance.
Morgan runs 92 minutes and is rated R (trigger warning: animal violence and insults to real scientists). It opens nationwide Friday, Sept. 2, pretty much everywhere. Twentieth Century Fox provided all images in this post and invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.