Directed by Luke Scott (2016)
by Benjamin Leonard
Best Boy at Moviejawn
Originally published on Cinepunx
From its Silent Hill styled introduction, I knew Luke Scott‘s Morgan was going to have a “twist” and within ten minutes I knew what it was. Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers in this review. I went in to this film having only read a synopsis. It seemed like something in the vein of Ex Machina but with less tech and more horror. Unfortunately, the first half played out as a slow and methodical drama with some convoluted attempts at becoming a suspense/mystery. It did finish with some blood, gore and chase scenes, but the film never really found its niche. It was more like a plodding crime drama that decided to segue into a teen horror film.
Morgan tells the story of a corporate risk-management consultant investigating the value of continuing a project for developing an artificially created humanoid. It takes place in a small compound on a large estate where she tries to suss out information following an incident where the creature has violently attacked one of the project leaders.
With a cast including old standbys such as Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Cox, Michelle Yeoh and Toby Jones while mixing in young talent such as The VVitch‘s break-out star Anya Taylor-Joy, you’d think Morgan would be bubbling over with fine performances. Sadly, only Giamatti, as the psychologist Dr. Shapiro, and Taylor-Joy, as the titular humanoid, delivered enjoyable work. The remainder of the cast comes off as bland and lifeless. This could be understandable in the case of Kate Mara, as she plays the calculating and methodical investigator Lee Weathers, but the rest of the characters are intended to be (sometimes exceptionally) emotional throughout the film. It was nice to see Chris Sullivan again, but that was just because I really wanted more Benny in Stranger Things.
Some of the problem is that none of the characters have enough screen-time to truly develop. Jennifer Jason Leigh has about ten minutes total, lightly sprinkled throughout the film. Even Giamatti and Taylor-Joy each only get about fifteen and twenty minutes respectively. In the end, I was jealous of them. They got to jump in and out of the movie while I was stuck watching the whole thing.
Additionally, the characters are mostly shown to be interacting with Morgan rather than each other. This is perplexing given that they have all lived together in a farmhouse on the estate for several years. There are hints at various back-stories that could cause tension and drama, but very little of that ever plays out. Instead, we just watch Lee Weathers trying to solve some mystery that doesn’t exist.
There were some nice scenic shots in the woods in Northern Ireland here and there. There was even a scene with a wounded deer a la Powder. I guess the fight scenes looked pretty good, but the film was rather standard looking otherwise. Similarly, the sound, music, costumes and set design were neither awe-inspiring nor distracting. I didn’t care for the overall appearance of Morgan. She looked like a standard teen, but pasty and glittery. She was more reminiscent of a Twilight vampire than a new breed of humanoid.
Morgan is Luke Scott’s directorial debut and writer Seth W. Owen‘s second entry for feature films. I’m left wondering if Scott should have spent a little more time learning to work with actors. His father, and producer, Ridley Scott probably just gave him a chance. It seems like everyone involved owed Ridley a favor, even the studio. You can’t even find a budget listed for this movie anywhere. They probably just backed up a truck loaded with hundreds and said, “Go to town!” Owen’s script was listed by Black List as one of 2014’s best un-produced scripts, but I felt it could use more focus in developing the characters’ places within the plot. In the end, the film was more enjoyable than not. I just felt that it was too predictable and there was so much underutilized talent in the cast.