Morgan: Sci-fi or slasher?

Morgan is a film which complements and embodies both science fiction and horror with a clear-cut agenda to simultaneously terrify and stimulate the mind.  The debut film of English director Luke Scott and written by Seth Owen, Morgan possesses many conflicting qualities that make it difficult to determine how you should feel about the film.  Ricocheting between thrilling, fast-paced scenes and absolutely dull moments that make you wonder why you’re watching the film.

The film centres around a human hybrid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is highly intelligent, intuitive and lethal.  Possessing incredible strength and programmed to be a living, breathing weapon, Morgan terrifies with her every move.   The opening scene shows a distraught Morgan viciously attacking scientist Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by repeatedly stabbing her in the eye with a pen.  An overwhelming atmosphere of anxiety and anticipation then follows, overhanging much like a guillotine blade at an impending execution.  The project—overseen by Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), whom Morgan insistently refers to as ‘Mother’—has reached complications of disastrous proportions.

While Morgan is not the first of her kind, she is revolutionary in the simple fact that has the profound ability to have complex human emotions and a relatively high EQ for an artificially created being.  However, over time Morgan has become emotionally unstable and wildly unpredictable.  There seems to be dichotomy in her biological programming; her empathy and human-like behaviour and a psychopathic glitch to execute on instinct.  This causes much grief for all the scientists and doctors who had developed personal attachments to Morgan.  The question becomes how ‘human’ is she and to what extent do the team of doctors and scientists project human qualities onto her.

Lee: does what it says on the label

When Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) arrives as a risk-assessment specialist for ‘Corporate’ (the money behind Morgan) things begin to escalate.  Calculating, rational and cerebral, Lee viciously tears down the scientist’s anthropomorphic fantasy that Morgan is anything more than a weapon.  Insisting on referring to her as an ‘it’ and failing to show any sympathy for any of the doctors, Lee’s role is to interrogate Morgan.  It is with deliberately placed irony that the artificial creation seemingly displays more human characteristics than Lee who displays robotic-like behaviour.  This might have created exciting chemistry within the film, but unfortunately Lee is a rather boring character.  Her input to the plot or character development is desultory.

In fact, all the characters possess at least one of the qualities of being either unlikeable or unforgivably boring.  Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie) is a prime example of being a leech that simply drains any potentially exciting scene.  Dressed casually in comparison to the other doctors, Amy strips herself of the image of playing the clinical doctor with a white coat and clipboard in hand.  It may have been the intention to set-up Amy as a sympathetic character and to be Morgan’s connection to the humane part of herself, but she is wholly unconvincing as a doctor.  Watching her aimless infatuation with Morgan, for no describable reason, was just positively irritating. The film refuses to outline motivation for any of the characters behaviour.

The biggest crime Morgan is guilty of, however, is Skip Vronsky (Boyd Holbrook).  Skip can only be assumed to be a live-in chef for the project’s team, who all live together in a huge old house in a remote area; an excruciatingly over-used plot device to instill horror.  It isn’t clear what Skip’s purpose is, other than to have developed a romantic interest in Lee.  The introduction of the romantic tension serves to emphasise how closed off Lee is emotionally, but Skip adds nothing else to the film and in reality, he doesn’t have any meaningful connection to Morgan or any of the other scientists.  He only exists as a plot addendum to Lee, who herself doesn’t really play any active role unless there is an intense fighting scene with Morgan.

no Obi Wan

With the climax consisting of a vengeful Morgan, the film’s somewhat strong science fiction start disperses into a slasher flick, where a loss of momentum in the plot progression becomes obvious. Morgan is confusing because it neither shows nor tells in order to explain any of the scenes.  Walking in to see Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) having had hung himself when the experiment had reported to be failure, elicited no real sentiment.  Morgan calling Dr. Lieu Cheng her mother once more before she smothered her, didn’t really build an epic moment as it should have.  Lieu was not seen frequently with Morgan throughout the movie, which lead it to be another pointless scene meshed in.

Despite the glaring flaws of Morgan that can make the film difficult to sit through at times, it does have a strong finish.  An impending plot twist, while predictable, somewhat validates parts of the movie and helps make it more enjoyable.  The cult horror classic Frankenstein (1931) is essentially revisited, in the story of a scientist arrogantly assuming the role of God by creating an artificial being.  It’s quite exciting to see the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein reimagined in Morgan, and it parallels Frankenstein quite intimately.  There are certainly parts of the film that keep you on the edge of your seat but unfortunately they appear at the beginning moreso than the end.

Luke Scott can be simultaneously congratulated and admonished for Morgan.  The characters needed better developing and the scenes better pacing, but the themes and the ideas explored within the film are interesting.  The concept of an artificial being that comes into conflict with their own biological programming and artificially created humanity is a story worth telling.  Yet, the execution makes all the difference.  Perhaps one day Scott may be able to revive Morgan again and fully exercise its potential.




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