Some spoilers will not stay behind the glass.
I think everyone knows that if there’s a juicy role for an actor to shine is that of that character behind the glass that everyone on the other side fears but inherently admires. There is always an inherent alien-ness about caging a person like a lab rat because of something we don’t understand or grasp about them. In this film, the titular character happens to have been created from completely artificial origins, making them already unnatural.
Morgan (2016) was directed by Luke Scott and written by Seth Owen. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent to evaluate the situation at a secret facility where there’s been an incident with a subject named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). Morgan is an artificially bio-engineered human facsimile. She looks human, she acts human, but she has attacked another person and stabbed her in the eye. We see that through a video recording that is shown to Lee later in the film. It’s also copy-pasted before the credits as if to try to set a less subtle tone early, which was unnecessary.
At the beginning and more or less through the first act, we’re getting to know our surroundings. Lee is the outsider and a messenger from Corporate which gets her the cold shoulder from most of the team. Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie) is the behaviorist who is very attached to Morgan and believes in her humanity. Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) is also a true believer and wants nothing more than for Lee to give them a green light to continue on. Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) is the head of the team and despite her cold detached demeanor, she’s heavily invested on Morgan as well. There’s more personnel but they sort of fade in the background.
I did have a problem with Michelle Yeoh’s Dr. Cheng – not as a character but in the way she’s underused. Twice she seems she’s there so that another character can seem smart by speaking a Chinese dialect to her. Movie tropes used to make a character appear to be very intelligent is something of a pet peeve of mine. When Lee meets Morgan, she’s playing chess by herself and listening to opera (some people will debate that the piece is actually Baroque style which some consider a separate category). It would’ve been nice to break the mold and have her listen to hip-hop. There’s another reason for this scene.
The only character that is not a fan of Morgan is the chef and nutritionist, Skip (Boyd Holbrook). Other than him even the victim, Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) seems to be forgive Morgan for the incident. The movie is easily separated in two halves, the first one being a more chilled out introduction and the second one, the actual action-packed thriller. Between them is the psych evaluation scene conducted by Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) which acts as the catalyst for the tone shift in the storyline. I don’t mind the change in tone overall, but rising tensions would have helped. Interactions could have escalated a bit. We did have a dinner scene in which discussions on the nature of Morgan would’ve brought different opinions to the surface. It really seemed that’s what the movie was aiming for.
There are some outstanding performances in this film. Giamatti and Yeoh are great in their brief appearances. Anya Taylor-Joy does a very good job. Kate Mara’s Lee Weathers feels distant because her character has to be. The cinematography is good. The color palette is bleak except for a few bright moments. I think this is why Rose Leslie’s Dr. Menser is chosen as a more passionate character that alienates Lee right as the start as she’s Morgan’s inspiration for human emotion. She’s the only one with some color in her wardrobe.
The movie lacks a bit of a kick. The first half seems pensive but a little more depth in the concepts involved in creating life could have given it a little more meat. The psych evaluation is a powerful moment that should have some fallback from Morgan’s part. Instead, her resolve is instant. Dedicating some moments of self-doubt would’ve definitely added some flavour before hell breaks loose. The last half is more of the action thriller, but it does feel almost unwarranted for the kind of character it has been trying to build. Some hints of Morgan knowing martials arts, driving a car, shooting a gun, etc. would contribute a little more to justify her prowess.
Recommended with reservations. I think it has some solid performances, cinematography and some memorable scenes. The slow first half and the action-packed last half might be at ends with some audiences that prefer one to the other. I was entertained by both, but felt like the movie could have committed to exploring the concepts a little deeper. It could’ve been better, but it shows enough restraint in certain parts where any other movie would’ve gone for the cheap jumpscare. It’s not a horror film but more of a sci-fi thriller. I appreciate it never made up an excuse to use CGI or any heavy pseudo-techno babble and kept to basics, that made me appreciate it a lot more.
That will do for now.