THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The Black List is an annual Hollywood survey of the best unproduced screenplays, as decided by industry professionals. Many of them never get the green light. Some do. Spotlight, Whiplash, and Juno are just a few of the movies that have been successfully made from Black List scripts. Self/Less, Pan, and Sex Tape are among the ones that turned into duds. Morgan, written by Seth Owen, belongs squarely in the latter category. It's exactly the kind of picture you'd expect to be released on Labor Day weekend: dumb, shoddy, and forgettable.
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) plays Morgan, an artificially-created humanoid kept in seclusion at an isolated facility in the middle of a forest. She's only five, but looks like a sullen teenager. For unclear reasons, Morgan goes bananas and stabs one of her doctors (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye. Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a risk-management consultant from the corporation that funded Morgan's creation, is dispatched to the location to determine whether or not she should be terminated. Paul Giamatti plays a doctor also brought in to do psychological testing. Things do not go well. Morgan has clearly malfunctioned.
The big problem with Morgan is, well, Morgan. She's a thoroughly uninteresting character, with no depth or appealing qualities that might make us empathize with her. She's an enigma. We learn nothing about her, nor do we see the story's events from her perspective. Morgan calls some of her keepers “friends” and claims to “love” one of them, yet nothing in the movie substantiates that. With no significant development of her as a character – or of her relationships with any of the other characters – she's a big black hole right smack in the middle of the plot.
None of this is the fault of Anya Taylor-Joy, who fulfills the requirement of issuing evil stares and speaking in a cold, methodical tone of voice. It may or may not even be the fault of the script; Morgan feels like entire scenes of exposition that used to be here are now missing. There's a weird bare-bones vibe to it. We are left with so many questions, such as how Morgan feels about her “mother” (Michelle Yeoh), one of the doctors at the facility. Because we don't fully grasp any of the connections, there's not a lot of suspense to be mined from the dramatic events that take place in the film's second half. Everyone else is one-note, too, so rooting interest in their fate is severely minimized.
The only really good scene in the picture is the one with Giamatti, but his role is nothing more than a glorified cameo. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, and Brian Cox (who plays a corporation bigwig) are barely in it at all. Kate Mara is fine as the efficient, ruthless risk-management expert. The actress props up the movie as much as she can. If nothing else, she shows some credibility in an action role.
Morgan was directed by Luke Scott, whose father Ridley made the classic Alien. Both are about people trapped in a remote location with a deadly being. The difference is that Alien has fully-developed characters. It takes the time to build suspense, so that when bad stuff starts happening, we have a real reason to care about it. Morgan, on the other hand, runs cardboard characters through a hurried plot that offers no tension and no kind of satisfying payoff. There's nothing here that the superior A.I. thriller Ex Machina didn't do much better last year.
One has to feel badly for Seth Owen, who wrote a script people admired that got turned into a movie no one will remember six months from now.
( 1/2 out of four)
Morgan is rated R for brutal violence, and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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