This week I was faced with a choice between Morgan (a week after it came out) and Sully. One is from the son of Ridley Scott and the other is directed by the original badass Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, a national treasure. Both are associated with film legends that alone warrant your attention and they actually look pretty good. I try my best to budget my spending, especially at this current juncture in my life. My policy is to see one movie a week and save whatever else I need to see for another time. However, with two potentially good films from people who have excelled in the past, I find it difficult to pick one and postpone the other. Was Morgan the right choice or do I owe Clint Eastwood an apology?
After an incident involving a synthetic human named Morgan, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, the company who made her sends an agent, played by Kate Mara, to assess her financial value at an isolated compound. Not long after arriving does all hell break loose.
Gene Siskle, the better half of Roger Ebert (yeah, I said it), put it best when he said, “Watching girls getting stuck is entertainment,” in his review of Friday the 13th Part 4. Slashers are popular because we can watch fictional people die in creative ways without feeling bad. Could you watch an ISIL mass execution video and laugh? If you are crazy of course, but the rest of us cannot. That is why when Kevin Bacon gets an arrow in the throat it is exciting and you can take comfort in the fact that one actually died.
Morgan is Ex Machina if it was a slasher. The movie has similar themes that serve as fluff happening the background. The characters embody horror film archetypes and are also dumb as nails. I was reminded of Lazarus Effect where scientists unintentionally created a Tetsuo monster and instead of talking to it, they tried to kill it, and died in the process. In Morgan, some idiots grew a Replicant with emotional problems that were totally their fault. In flashbacks we see Morgan as a normal person that loves her friends, even though they treat her like a science experiment. She was fine and these people were somehow surprised when she started murdering them?
Stupid characters are an easy way to encourage the desire to see them die and I could not wait to watch these idiots eat it. At the same time, the movie and Taylor-Joy do a great job of making you sympathize with Morgan. She is literally a prisoner with no control over her fate. Outdoors she’s full of life and curious about nature. Inside she is a wounded animal that you want to let out. She is a sad character and you feel bad for her. By the time she goes full Jason, it is exciting because she is finally getting what she wants.
On that note, Taylor-Joy carries the entire film. Coming off of The Witch she excels in part to her giant Rami Malek eyes. She steals entire scenes because her sadness, anger, and happiness are so believable. In one scene Paul Giamatti’s Dr. Shapiro is interviewing her and the shifts in emotion gradually and subtly rise and fall to a gory breaking point. It was such an intense moment that would not have made the movie without the performances. In fact, Morgan should have been just Taylor-Joy and Giamatti talking.
The film obviously does not want to be a slasher, but it does not do much with the science fiction. The ideas brought up about artificial intelligence were done better in Ex Machina. There’s an interesting dynamic where Morgan was originally designed to be an assassin, but the scientists were training her to develop normal emotions naturally. When she is in distress, she regresses to assassin mode and lashes out. Instead of exploring this idea of a repressed killer instinct, it is a plot device to explain her efficiency at murder. She also has mental powers that are not explained nor make sense.
As a science fiction movie Morgan falls short. The themes and ideas are not given that much attention to the point I would rather watch Ex Machina. However, that is not to say it has no value as a slasher. If you want to see dumbass scientists punished for their incompetence, this is a great candidate. In terms of general horror, it does a better job than most. On those merits I recommend it.