There is some creative gene-splicing inside and outside of “Morgan,” the science fiction horror thriller about a deadly lab-made girl who wants to be human.
Luke Scott, son of Ridley, directs his first feature as if it’s a Father’s Day present, aided by a script that carries the DNA of both “Alien” and “Blade Runner.” When two characters with unclear agendas have a conversation, Luke Scott captures the feeling of young Ridley at his most magnetic and unsettling.
But the film tries to split the difference between thoughtful science fiction and action-driven horror and blows the chance to truly succeed at either. “Morgan” is an enjoyable enough experience in the moment, but it never quite coalesces.
The first 10 minutes are all exposition, with characters talking on the phone, talking to each other and talking in voice-over to overexplain the setup. Morgan is a bioengineered human being who was built in a compound that combines Professor Xavier’s mansion from the “X-Men” comics and Grey Gardens.
Morgan has exhibited some violent tendencies and is enabled by her overly attached creators. Corporate bad cop Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent to assess the situation and recommend a course of action.
It’s a strange backdrop for an even stranger movie, which was shot in a low-budget location, yet could afford top-shelf character actors and indie all-stars — including Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michelle Yeoh as various creators and caretakers. Paul Giamatti shows up for an absolutely electric five minutes, acting as if he was retroactively cast in one of Quentin Tarantino’s early films. (Without giving much away, Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction” is a close match.)
But Luke Scott’s pacing, building an early foundation of uneasiness, starts to collapse as the script resorts to illogical actions in service of the plot. Their lack of self-preservation makes the characters harder to root for. “Morgan” has about seven potential victims stuck in a confined space with an escalating problem, much like “Alien.” But there’s no one on the coolness/bad-ass scale of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley here. Mostly this crew just mopes around waiting to die.
(Worst of all, it’s the seemingly smartest characters who have their guards down at the wrong time, even though history begs the world to approach Morgan as if she’s a Terminator version of mixed martial arts star Rhonda Rousey.)
Anya Taylor-Joy is Morgan, and the execution of her character is mixed. She’s appropriately unsettling, aided by some subtle makeup and sound mixing. But the sense of psychological robot horror feels remedial in the wake of better films. “Morgan” arrives just a year after “Ex Machina,” a masterpiece in the same genre.
Of course such comparisons are unfair, even in a movie that pays so much tribute to the science fiction films of a generation earlier. Luke Scott’s directorial debut is imperfect. But it’s accomplished enough to make connoisseurs of science fiction thrillers hope he gets at least one more chance.
Rated R. Time: 1:27.