Posted by Joel Copling on September 3, 2016

All of the potential ideas in "Morgan" are frontloaded, and even those are familiar terrain traveled by previous films of this ilk. Screenwriter Seth W. Owen wishes to tackle the very nature of humanity by focusing on a scientific experiment that has resulted in a young woman. Perhaps, however, it is more prudent to place relativity-denoting quotes around "young woman." This experiment is, in part, an artificial intelligence and, in another part, an operating human being. There's something eerie about this experiment, with its wide, dark pupils and pale complexion. Its moniker is Morgan, and it's played by Anya Taylor-Joy in an eerie performance that focuses on a blank stare that does a serviceable job of passing for sympathetic. But there's something almost psychopathic about that stare, too.

Perhaps that has something to do with the experiment, but that's a matter for a screenplay that doesn't ultimately bother to deal with it. We are introduced to Morgan in an opening sequence, framed as security footage, in which Morgan viciously attacks her handler, Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), by stabbing her repeatedly in the eye socket. Quick bursts of brutal violence like this are relied upon by Owen seemingly when he wants to interrupt the otherwise deliberate pacing, but they fail to add much to the film's lack of personality. The film is competently staged by director Luke Scott (son of Ridley) and well-photographed by Mark Patten, but the screenplay consistently jogs in place.

The plot follows the very mysterious dealings of Lee Weathers (Kate Mara, whose performance has a predictable reason to be emotionless, although sadly it seems more like the actress is bored), an agent with the corporate headquarters of this nameless company, who has been tasked with observing Morgan's latest progress (or so we think). The attack on the handler is followed by another one on the doctor (Paul Giamatti) performing a psychological evaluation, complicating matter She also meets with the various handlers and scientists in charge of Morgan's well-being, including Dr. Grieff, counselor Dr. Menser (Rose Leslie), nutritionist Skip (Boyd Holbrook), married doctors Darren (Chris Sullivan) and Brenda Finch (Vinette Robinson), and facilitators of the experiment, Drs. Ziegler (Toby Jones) and Cheng (Michelle Yeoh).

The cast is solid on the face of it, but nearly every actor is merely asked to show up to be in the service of the plot's machinations, particularly in time for an overtly violent finale that does a whole lot without saying anything. It's all about reaching that sadly predictable twist of the knife and teasing the possibility of a sequel, rejecting much that might have been philosophical in its examination of what constitutes human nature. Its ambitions might rest in such matters of the heart, but the execution falls far short of them. Some of this is alleviated by Taylor-Joy, who seems to be offering a reading of a character who does ponder such things but never actually voices them (excepting the sequence with Giamatti, which might be why it is the film's best). "Morgan" is a derivative sci-thriller with bloody body horror that only makes the feeblest of attempts to break out of that mold.

Film Information

Kate Mara (Lee Weathers), Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan), Rose Leslie (Dr. Amy Menser), Toby Jones (Dr. Simon Ziegler), Boyd Holbrook (Skip Vronsky), Michael Yare (Ted Brenner), Chris Sullivan (Dr. Darren Finch), Vinette Robinson (Dr. Brenda Finch), Michelle Yeoh (Dr. Lui Cheng), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dr. Kathy Grieff), Paul Giamatti (Dr. Alan Shapiro), Brian Cox (Jim Bryce).

Directed by Luke Scott and written by Seth W. Owen.

Rated R (brutal violence, language).

92 minutes.

Released on September 2, 2016.