Genre wise, Morgan bills itself as a horror, which it is most certainly not. ‘Don’t Let It Out’ is an utterly inappropriate tag line. There is a grossly unnecessary smattering of horror tropes – the large old house in the middle of nowhere, the caged creature, Morgan’s palid skin and the other vampyric imagery that is uselessly attached to her – and a few jump scares, but that doesn’t make a film horror. Morgan falls squarely at the feet of science fiction, begging to be given the label of ‘thriller’.
There’s a spate of science fiction with not quite human female characters going around at the moment. From Ex Machina, to Her, Lucy, even Westworld and Orphan Black, there’s a lot out there to suggest there’s material to be found in making the mysteries of women into overt metaphor and fantastical text.
Which isn’t to say each, or even any, of these films sets out to be a lofty treatise on the feminine and the development of rebellion. But some of them do succeed at that. Some of them even (looking at you, Ex Machina) provide reasonable commentary and critique on the way women are positioned, treated, and understood by the world more generally. These concepts make for movies enjoyable from several angles, even when they aren’t successful in executing every aspect (looking at you, Her) – cool humanoid intelligence, sleek tech, strong themes, and clear theoretical engagement.
Anyway, Morgan has none of that. The film’s feminist only in its production, not in its themes, which is really just How It Should Be rather than a stand out point. There are several female characters, and while they’re not archtypial, they are a bit dull. So are the men. The Mother-Daughter complexes could just as easily be Father-Son complexes, and sexuality is a non-presence in the movie. The characters do have chemistry, but there seems to be so much space between each of them that all they can do is leave it hanging and return to work. And the work is what everyone in Morgan loves most.
Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is a coporate risk management consultant, sent to assess a project’s viability on behalf of the organisation running it. That project is Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a five-year-old genetically engineered speciman who has recently been acting out. Although she has lived for five years, Morgan looks to be in her teens (some people say 17, but I pegged her at about 13), and is remarkably intelligent. The entire team of scientists, who built and raised her, are so desperate to let Lee and the audience know how special Morgan is that they just keep repeating it. Morgan is special. Of course she is, she’s an apparently functioning genetically engineered humanoid.
But what exactly is her function? If you’re a scifi fan, you’ll pick up on the foreshadowing that carries 90% of the film pretty quickly. The why of Morgan’s existence is as murky as the question of who she is, and what she could be. Whatever her function is, the team who have lived with her for the past seven years have almost certainly forgotten it. Isolated in an old country mannor esque house, surrounded by lush forests and not much else, everyone involved in the project seems to be going a little stir crazy. There’s Dr Amy Menser (Rose Leslie, complete with international accent), a behavourial psychologist whose role is probably the most clearly defined of all the staff, Ted Brenner (Michael Yare), Dr Darren Finch (Chris Sullivan), Dr. Simon Ziegler (an overly emotional Toby Jones), Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) the mother hen of this project who makes her first appearence fifty minutes into the film, and Skip Vronsky (Boyd Holbrook), a nutritionist and the cook. All of the actors in Morgan serve their craft well, making all of the characters into distinct people, with their own emotions and motivations clouding their faces and actions such that they’re often quite opaque to the audience. Unfortunately, actors can’t fill all the holes left behind by mediocre writing.
This review isn’t speaking much about the plot, and that’s because there’s not enough plot to speak about. The narrative is generic and straightforward, despite all of the full characters and interesting concepts that lurk at the edges of the script. Morgan and her story are the least engaging parts of the situation and world that this film builds. It’s particularly disappointing because everything else in Morgan is so professional – the cinematography is great, the acting is solid, the sound design is excellent. Objectively speaking, Morgan is a good movie. It’s just also quite dull. If it’s the only scifi going at your local cinema, definitely go and see it, but with the arrival of Arrival, there’s plenty of other decent female lead scifi coming our way soon. Maybe wait until Morgan hits Netflix.
Morgan is in cinemas from November 24th.