"Morgan" Is a Genetic Hybrid of "Ex Machina" and "Splice" - But Not as Good as Either

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - 12:00AM
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Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - 12:00AM
"Morgan" Is a Genetic Hybrid of "Ex Machina" and "Splice" - But Not as Good as Either
In Luke Scott's sci-fi thriller Morgan, a young, intrepid employee at a mysterious corporation travels to a remote location filled with natural beauty. The employee discovers a project involving a beautiful and endearing female humanoid that is built to achieve sentience and experience emotion. After revealing one-on-one sessions and psychological analysis of the potentially dangerous humanoid, the creature escapes and wreaks havoc on everyone who dehumanized her. 



If that sounds familiar, it's because we saw this movie last year: only then it was called Ex Machina. Ex Machina was one of the best sci-fi movies of 2015, and in some ways, this comparison is a compliment. Like Ex Machina, Morgan featured an amazing central performance from an up-and-coming young actress (Alicia Vikander and Anya Taylor-Joy, respectively), it was artfully photographed to a surprising degree, and its fascinating premise allowed for both claustrophobic tension and a poignant exploration of what it means to be human.

But unfortunately, and unlike Ex Machina, Morgan failed to follow through on any of its potentially complex themes. At first, it seemed like we were watching a character-driven, psychologically-minded thriller, but then any chances for character development were eschewed for lots of carnage and a ridiculously telegraphed twist ending. The entire conceit of the movie is ostensibly to wonder about Morgan's true motivations, but by the end, they're still not entirely clear. Whether she can truly "feel" love, for example, is a huge question in the film, and yet it's never quite resolved, nor is it left ambiguous in a satisfying way. It just felt like the answer changed from scene to scene, or that the writers hadn't really decided yet. 

But as long as the movie was going to neglect character development, there was another avenue it could have taken: full-on crazy body horror. If there was another movie Morgan emulated, it was definitely Splice, which was not quite as sensitively written as Ex Machina, but made up for it by going completely bonkers at every opportunity. Even when splice went off the rails a little, you went along with it because it was just SO crazy, you couldn't help but be shocked, and even moved, by what was happening onscreen. Morgan's violence was disturbing at times, but never nearly rose to that level of insanity. There was so much potential for some creepy, squirmy shit to go down, but instead, most of the carnage was quick and clean, sometimes even taking place offscreen. That would have been refreshing if most of the runtime had been spent on building the relationships and the characters, but as it was, it was anticlimactic.

(And speaking of horror tropes, Morgan also brought back the classic "characters get themselves into dangerous situations by being unrealistically stupid" cliche. If it seems like Paul Giamatti's character is being an idiot in this clip, it doesn't make any more sense in context. He's just an idiot.)



At the end of the day, Morgan couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be. For the first half, it felt like a character drama with some horror elements, but all of the ideas, relationships, and characters were half-baked. Then, when the carnage starts, you're not emotionally invested, because the characters hadn't been built up enough, and the violence itself isn't satisfying for fans of straight-up horror. And then the twist at the end devolves into an action movie climax, weirdly, and suddenly you're watching a different movie entirely. It was like a genetic splice of three different movies, and while many directing choices showed potential, it was ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
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