There’s nothing better than stumbling upon the gem of a good bad movie. I didn’t have any expectations going into Morgan the new thriller from Ridley Scott’s son Luke Scott. From the trailer, it had the potential to be good. With a cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Toby Jones, it’s at least got talent in its corner. Marketed as a horror/thriller the premise of a group of scientists secluded in the Pacific Northwest working on a secretive assignment of creating a synthetic human who is now a teenager with dangerous abilities sounds interesting. It also sounds a little too close to Ex Machina. If anything Morgan will make you appreciate the brilliance of Ex Machina even more as director Alex Garland had a greater sense of timing and patience. Morgan falls off the rails pretty quickly as it doesn’t even know how to stick to its general principals and once it kicks into high gear, there’s no stopping.
The film begins with the audience surrogate in the form of Lee (Kate Mara), a risk assessment expert who is sent to investigate the bunker lab by the company funding the project after a violent outburst from Morgan leaves Dr.Grieff (Leigh) half blinded. A very intense and androgynous Lee is warned that the employees have closely bonded during their years at this remote location and have become too attached to the subject. The latter may be true, but I could easily be convinced that all these characters just met. There is no chemistry at all with the unit, even with those who are supposed to be in a relationship appear repulsed by each other. It doesn’t help that that screenwriter Seth Owen chose to introduce every character separately. It automatically instills distance as we don’t even have the opportunity to see them all function together aside from a few videos a sentimental Toby Jones shows Lee to present the trajectory of the subject’s being. It’s apparent how many actors they must have had for only one day as Leigh is bed ridden the whole story and project head Dr.Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), who is supposed to be the mother figure to the team and especially to Morgan is seen so rarely. Her brief, commanding appearances feel more like a tactic to attract a Chinese market. Yes, multiple characters speak to her in Mandarin, begging for the movie to do well overseas.
The assessment goes south when psychologist Dr. Shapiro (Paul Giamatti, another actor with only a day to spare) conducts a psych evaluation on Morgan. Up to this point, all we know about Morgan is she’s “special.” Everyone living at the compound states this repeatedly but that never is expanded on. By the end of the film, I couldn’t tell you if she’s super human, highly intelligent or what her purposes could have been. Anya Taylor-Joy who still feels very green coming off of The VVitch plays her so robotically that I had to remind myself she was human. So Giamatti proceeds on the most antagonist test on Morgan, essentially provoking her to attack him a la Headshot to Diablo in Suicide Squad. He’s just trying to “get her there” which is quite unethical. Not surprising that yelling at a fifteen-year-old that she’s going to be locked in her cement quarters forever and everyone she knows isn’t her friend would spark a murderous rampage and that’s where the plot takes us. After Morgan’s illusions of her perfect family are shattered, she will stop at nothing till all the staff are dead. This is where I really got on board because it becomes a dark and sadistic cuckoo bananas movie that I had not planned for. The merciless way Morgan shoots, suffocates and beats the crap out all the people she has known for her expedited five years of life is unsettling. She goes full dead-eyed Terminator as she tracks down her former loved ones. The story devolves into a chase through the forest as Lee is the only one who can stop her. The fact that this solemn movie manages to drop even lower with execution-style deaths and Toby Jones gratuitously hanging himself blows my mind.
Morgan feels like off brand M Night Shamaylan which is probably why its as laughable as The Happening. There’s a subpar twist that can be figured out roughly half way (or at line one if you’re listening) through when shit hits the fan it doesn’t lead to any explanation to why scientists grew this girl that the company is now so intent on killing. The movie takes itself gravely seriously which is what makes it so laughable. When the car chase between a Chevy and a Lexus through the woods turns into a luxury car commercial I couldn’t help but laugh. When the unassuming character of Brenda (Vinette Robinson) starts busting out Krav Maga on Morgan I knew all logic went out the window. Where Ex Machina was compelled to take their time setting up the location, the solitary confinement of nature and how the limited characters coped with the invention of the A.I., Morgan says fuck it and goes full Rambo. The frivolous violence paired with poor character development makes for a perfectly enjoyable mess. Barely running its 90 minutes this is totally a movie I want to show friends on a bad movie night. I’d like to think it exists only to be made fun because it’s such a cruel film otherwise. So welcome Morgan, you’ll make great bedfellows with the Howard the Ducks and Showgirls that have come before you.