Rating: R
Stars: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Toby Jones, Chris Sullivan, Boyd Holbrook, Vinette Robinson, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox
Writer: Seth W. Owen
Director: Luke Scott
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Release Date: September 2, 2016

MORGAN | © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox

MORGAN | © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox

MORGAN is a science-fiction/horror story that plays hardball with our sympathies. Even as we’re shown the danger posed by Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) in the opening moments, we instinctively side with her and those who want to protect her. This instinct is challenged throughout, as – this isn’t giving much away – the first scene won’t be the last time Morgan reacts violently.

Morgan is chronologically five years old, though she looks like a (very slightly alien) preteen. She is the product of a laboratory experiment, and the scientists involved in creating and raising her aren’t just proud of their work – most of them love her as much as they would a biological child. They are all understandably nervous when Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a “risk management expert” from Corporate, shows up at the isolated rustic compound. Lee is here to assess whether or not it is worth Corporate’s investment to continue to project. If she decides in the negative, the project will be terminated – that is, Morgan will be killed.

As MORGAN progresses, it answers most of the questions it poses. Attentive viewers may figure out what is happening a little earlier than planned, though the logical, well-laid-out “why” is not revealed until the final scenes. Lee’s watchful, professional demeanor doesn’t help us warm up to her, and of course it’s easy to feel for the scientists, and for the desperate young Morgan. Even when we can foresee where a lot of this may be going, we can hardly blame many of the characters for their very human actions.

Mara is excellent as Lee, a woman of hidden qualities, and Taylor-Joy has a wondrous “otherness” that goes hand in hand with Morgan’s plaintive childlike traits (Jordan Samuels deserves special applause for the subtle, effective makeup design). Rose Leslie is a source of enormous warmth as Morgan’s closest friend.

What we can quarrel with are some of the plot mechanics that have to happen in order to get Morgan from Point A to Point B. Given what everybody knows about Morgan from the film’s opening moments, it’s hard to buy the actions of Paul Giamatti’s aggressive corporate psychiatrist. This is compounded by the doctor in charge of the project, played by an authoritative Michelle Yeoh, being unnecessarily cruel. If MORGAN as a film explored its supporting characters just a little more, this could be rationalized as truly human behavior – look how contradictory we are! – but instead it feels like something that’s done simply to get another character to react so that the story will take a dark turn.

This said, MORGAN is impressive on many levels. It feels like a Seventies indie, made in multiple shades of moral gray, with some red blood splatter.

 

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