DIR: Luke Scott • WRI: Seth W. Owens • PRO: Ridley Scott, Aidan Elliott, Elishia Holmes • DOP: Mark Patten • ED: Laura Jennings • DES: Tom McCullogh • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michael Yare, Rose Leslie, Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Sullivan, Paul Giamatti, Michelle Yeoh, Boyd Holbrook, Vinette Robinson
“We don’t want another Helsinki,” someone warns early on in Morgan, an occasionally interesting, flashy-looking but by-the-numbers sci-fi thriller. It occurs to me that you could build many a movie out of the line “we don’t want another Helsinki,” one of many clichés that the film’s screenplay runs through. We never learn exactly what happened in Helsinki, but people died and there was a mess to clean up.
One of those tasked with cleaning up messes like this is Kate Mara, a “risk-management consultant” who dresses like an executive but has moves like a Mossad agent. She is sent by her corporate masters to an isolated mansion deep in the middle of nowhere to investigate what went wrong with a hush-hush science experiment. There she meets an assortment of scientists as well as the film’s title character. Tensions rise. Tempers fray. Mayhem ensues.
You have seen Morgan many, many times, as it tells an old story: a corporation finances a wacky science experiment; something goes terribly awry; a company stooge has to square off against earnest boffins and say things like, “I’ve been authorised to shut this place down. Effective immediately, this experiment is terminated”; and then people start dying.
But there’s a twist, one that you’ll see coming a mile off. Morgan isn’t really a subtle film.
It might remind you somewhat of Ex Machina, concerning as it does Artificial Intelligence, and containing as it does scenes where the experiment’s subject is kept in a sealed room behind bullet-proof glass. Morgan, however, has none of that film’s existential concerns. A closer comparison is to the highly silly but very enjoyable Deep Blue Sea, only with a weird not quite human with homicidal instincts instead of intelligent sharks. Beat for beat, it tells almost the exact same story as that or any number of low rent science-fiction movies from recent years, from Species to Splice.
The country-house setting and motley cast of characters might also have you thinking of Agatha Christie, and there is I suppose a certain pleasure to be had guessing who will die next. The characters are the usual bunch you’d expect in this sort of thing: the well-meaning head of the project; the one who feels sorry for Morgan; the token Black guy; and the hunky one.
Mercifully, it doesn’t get bogged down in the science – it’s sort of hazy on the details, actually, which go something like this: Synthetic DNA Something Something Nano Technology Something Something Accelerated Growth Something Something Amazing Ability – and it runs through the necessary exposition in a couple of minutes.
Watching it prompts an interesting question (more interesting than the film, actually): with the exception of Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina, whatever happened to fictional scientists who could fund their own work? Would Doctors Frankenstein or Jekyll have achieved as much as they did if they had always to be concerned about the bottom line and the value of the company’s stock?
Morgan is directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley). Luke doesn’t quite have his old man’s eye for a great shot, although there are a couple of nice images here and there. He does have decent taste in music, however: the film has a great, moody electronic score by Max Richter, and at times I found myself enjoying the soundtrack more than the visuals, which for the most part aren’t that interesting, save for some brilliant overhead shots at the beginning.
Thankfully, Morgan doesn’t outstay its welcome: it’s a brisk, ninety-minute B-movie with an A-list cast. A-listish, anyway. Mara is still most famous for House of Cards. You’ll recognise the great character actor Chris Sullivan from The Knick, and Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones. Paul Giamatti pops up and snarls a bit. Toby Jones looks worried a lot. Jennifer Jason Leigh gets to do most of her work lying down. Brian Cox (uncredited) phones in most of his performance (I mean literally: he speaks to Mara on the phone a lot.) A cynic would say that most of the actors are only here for an easy pay cheque. That’s not true: they’re here for an easy pay cheque and the chance to stay in a nice house in the country.
15A (see IFCO for details)
Morgan is released on 2nd September 2016