Review: An AI Experiment Goes Haywire in Morgan

3 minute read

If the serene-as-hell actress Anya Taylor-Joy didn’t already exist, you’d have to invent her to play Morgan in Luke Scott’s feature debut of the same name, a “human” created by messing around with synthetic DNA and adding heaps of artificial intelligence. Morgan is so equanimical about everything that she can be stroking a wounded deer one minute and breaking its bones the next. Taylor-Joy—previously seen as a Puritan with celestially creamy skin in Robert Eggers’ supernatural thriller The Witch—is good at playing Morgan. Maybe too good. Her performance has a nice, chilly sheen, though there’s one human feeling that seeps through often: Disdain. Most of the characters around Morgan truly care about her, but they also patronize her. Some of them, taking a tip from modern hipster parents everywhere, even call her “buddy” as an endearment. It’s a sweet little irony—since, as you can guess, by the end of the movie she’s no one’s buddy.

Morgan is an unassuming little thriller, nicely put together and engaging enough while you’re watching, though its memory is likely to vaporize hours, or even minutes, after you’ve seen it. In the movie’s opening minutes, the teenage Morgan, locked in her somewhat sad little observation chamber, throws a temper tantrum because she’s told she can’t go outside that day. The behavioral scientist who breaks the news (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gets stabbed in the eye. This sort of behavior doesn’t go down well with the megacorporation that’s funding the whole Morgan experiment: They send in their ultra-capable henchwoman, Lee Weathers (Kate Mara in a series of CIA-issue black pantsuits and spindly-heeled pumps), to investigate.

Some members of Team Morgan are sentimental about their manmade creation—one of them, another behavioral scientist played by Rose Leslie, has pretty much fallen in love with her. Lee has to keep reminding them: “Morgan’s not a she. It’s an it.” The humans around Morgan—they also include Toby Jones and Michelle Yeoh, both characteristically wonderful in smallish roles—don’t know if they should be protecting their experiment or pulling the plug, and Morgan, wily little It that she is, manipulates them to keep them guessing. Or maybe she just doesn’t know any better. In any event, it’s left to Lee to decide whether tough love is needed. Scott, working from a script by Seth W. Owen, keeps the gears running smoothly enough, though unlike the scientists around Morgan, we never really wonder if it’s possible to train this creepy-innocent adolescent to have or understand human feelings. As Anya Taylor-Joy plays her, she looks as if she’s just stepped off a lilypad, refreshed by the morning dew and ready to draw blood. You wouldn’t trust her as far as you could throw her. I mean, it.

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