When the suits at corporate dispatch a troubleshooter to a remote research facility in “Morgan,” they aren’t sending a metaphor. From the pistol slipped surreptitiously into her waistband to the ice cold look in her eyes, it’s clear that Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is prepared to apply a 9mm solution to a troublesome problem.
The problem is a familiar one in sci-fi lore. From the seed of “Frankenstein” to such branchings as “Blade Runner” and “Ex Machina” (which “Morgan” resembles stylistically more than a little, especially with its concrete-and-glass interior visuals), the problem is a manufactured person, an unhuman human, who is malfunctioning in homicidal ways.
The problem has a name, Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), synthesized in the lab from synthetic DNA, 5 years old but looking like a young woman in her late teens or early 20s. “I am something new. There is no appropriate label,” she says. However, label her an “it,” as does Lee and a bullying psychologist overplayed by Paul Giamatti, and don’t be surprised if there are consequences — bloody ones.
The mood created by director Luke Scott (son of Ridley, who produced the picture) in his feature directorial debut is as chilled and fraught with menace as the character of Lee. The lab is located in a crumbling old mansion deep in the woods — Spooky! — where the isolated research team led by a scientist played by Toby Jones has fallen prey to a paranoid us-against-them attitude toward the outside world that’s blinded the brainiacs to the danger they’ve birthed.
Anchored by Mara’s rigidly controlled performance and Taylor-Joy’s tremulous yet quietly menacing work, “Morgan” is an effective tension-generator that unfortunately falls apart at the end with fistfights and a car chase. It does however, have a nasty sting in its tail, hinted at along the way but only revealed in the very last moments.
Nicely done, Mr. Scott, nicely done.
☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh.
Director: Luke Scott.
Running time: 1:27.
Rated: R, for brutal violence and some language.