There is much to be admired about Morgan. “She’s smart, smarter than any of us, but that’s not what makes her special,” says Doctor Kathy Grieff through the hazy glow of heavy medication, her enthusiasm for the project still bright even though “the incident” which has brought risk assessment specialist Lee Weathers to the remote facility where Morgan is housed cost her an eye.
Grieff blames herself rather than Morgan, but Weathers is there to make her own judgement based on the hopefully more objective reports of the project leaders. Doctor Simon Ziegler cannot wait to show off the team’s work with synthetic DNA and boast of Morgan’s development, walking and talking at a month, an “autonomous, decision making hybrid with sophisticated emotional responses,” but Doctor Lui Cheng, who lost twenty one out of a team of thirty during a previous “incident” in Helsinki, is more reserved, aware of the hazard.
Then there is Morgan herself, hugely intuitive with a frightening perception and matching physically capability but with the fractious temper of a child. Behavioural expert Doctor Amy Menser has become too close to her as a friend to be objective, as have Doctors Brenda and Darren Finch who act as though they are Morgan’s parents, but it soon becomes apparent to Weathers that Morgan is manipulating all the residents save Cheng and that the assessment of the organism is already compromised.
Is she human? Is it something which thinks that it is human? Or is it something which is only pretending to be human? With Metropolis about to celebrate its eightieth birthday, artificial intelligence and lifeforms have been present in science fiction cinema since the beginning, with the last few years offering Uncanny, The Machine and Ex Machina to name but a few, the latter strongly echoed here in the intellectual approach and the country house setting, in addition to the defining works on the subject, Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica, and there are also facets of Hanna and Splice.
Directed by Luke Scott from a script by Seth Owen, Morgan is beautifully filmed in the Irish countryside and boasts a cast far beyond that of most debut features, no doubt facilitated by the presence of producer Ridley Scott, and across the board the performances are as good as would be expected of Berberian Sound Studio’s Toby Jones, Honeymoon’s Rose Leslie, Sunshine’s Michelle Yeoh, John Dies at the End’s Paul Giamatti, Anomalisa’s Jennifer Jason Leigh and Boyd Holbrook, now preparing to face off against Wolverine.
As the enigmatic and potentially dangerous L9 prototype, an asset which Weathers has been ordered to preserve by her unseen handler, the focus of the film is Anna Taylor-Joy in only her second major role, confirming her dalliance with The Witch was no midnight charm, though opposite her Transcendence’s Kate Mara affects her typical cold and scowling demeanour, appropriate for the role but making it difficult to be sympathetic to the moral question of the piece, whether Morgan is irredeemable or a suitable case for treatment.
With many extended scenes of discussion which allows the actors to breathe life into their characters all the researchers are, if not likeable, at least understandable, but where the film falls down is that although well-orchestrated it is also as a consequence deeply predictable, Blade Runner in a country mansion, a synthetic being searching for meaning, for family, for connection, and killing its creators for the crime of not being parents.
Worse, for a film based around a top secret research facility populated by supposedly intelligent scientists who have experienced a previous breach the isolation protocols are lamentable, as is the deflating final act which after all that has gone before comes down to a chick fight in the woods, squandering all the potential in cheap theatrics. As a debut feature the experiment is competent but disappointingly fails to reach its potential, and as inheritor of the family legacy sibling Jordan Scott’s debut Cracks remains by far the more interesting.