M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Six of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2015 and going through September 30, 2016. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on September 2, 2016. Available on DVD, BluRay, and On Demand from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment!
Directed by Luke Scott
Written by Seth W. Owen
Starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie, Michael Yare, Toby Jones, Chris Sullivan, Boyd Holbrook, Vinette Robinson, Michelle Yeoh, Brian Cox, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti, Crispian Belfrage, Amybeth McNulty, Jonathan Aris
Find out more about this film here
While more of a science fiction tale than a straight up horror one, MORGAN definitely has roots in Mary Shelley’s most famous work. Well acted, vividly directed, and tightly told, MORGAN has a big budget cast but tells an intimate tale of science gone horribly wrong.
Developed in a lab, Morgan (THE WITCH’s Anya Taylor-Joy), or Modified ORGANism, is kept in a secluded scientific facility with her every move watched and documented by a team of scientists. Looking like a sixteen year old, but only actually five, an incident involving some aggressive behavior has prompted corporate to send in two specialists (Agent Weathers played by Kate Mara and Dr.Shapiro played by Paul Giamatti) to evaluate whether or not to scrap the entire program. Though the first two versions of what Morgan is were deemed failures, this third one has developed to her creator Dr. Cheung’s (Michelle Yeoh) expectations, but this most recent incident (involving Jennifer Jason Leigh’s eye and a very pointy pencil) is a setback and the entire team working with Morgan including GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie, the always awesome Toby Jones, and the victim of the incident (Jennifer Jason Leigh) fear that all of the work they have put into the safety and caring of Morgan are going to be scrapped by suits who know nothing about her. What proceeds is an “us versus them” scenario where those caring for Morgan find themselves fighting against the funders who know nothing about her.
Doesn’t sound like too thrilling stuff, but what MORGAN is—is basically SPECIES or SPLICE (two fantastic sci fi horror films that put MORGAN in good company). It focuses on the relationships between Morgan’s caretakers and how irrelevant those caretakers and the work they do matter in the real world of numbers, results, and more importantly, money. Having worked in a mental health facility, I’ve experienced this first hand with management and admin passing rules and orders from their desks while those working with clients everyday are powerless in the client’s ultimate fate. Being familiar with this, MORGAN hit me on a more powerful level than most films of this type, but also because of the way this film unfolds in a simple, yet powerful way. MORGAN isn’t some sweeping epic film where the government is called in with machine guns to take on a disruptive and soon to be escaped experiment. It’s more of an ethical debate told through wonderful acting and intense scenes of action. Seeing this all play out assures me that someone involved in this film at some time in their lives worked in a mental health or medical facility and has seen this type of conflict played out between corporate and frontline before. That real world heft makes MORGAN a thinking man’s science fiction film rather than one about a sultry alien trying to fuck her way into taking over the world.
More akin with Joe Wright’s HANNA than SPECIES in terms of attention to character, MORGAN is excellently acted by Anya Taylor-Joy who, as she did with THE WITCH, shows that she is a powerhouse of an actress and one to look out for. Kate Mara is the real surprise here as she commands the entire film. Moving almost robotically through the film as the determined Agent Weathers, Mara is an ass-kicking, no-nonsense soldier trained to take out Morgan if she has to, but also shares a few moments of humanity that shows something much more complex going on. Yeoh and Jones are great, but that’s to be expected and Paul Giamatti really makes for a convincing psychologist trying to manipulate things in a performance that is less over the top than his usual roles. Another true surprise is Rose Leslie’s nuanced performance as Dr. Menser who shares a bond with Morgan like no other in the film as her therapist. All of these roles are integral in the way this great wheel of a story rotates. None of them are chewing scenery or playing it porkily. All of them, even Leigh—who really gets very little to do here other than writhe in pain from Morgan’s attack, serve a purpose and play their part masterfully in this lean, yet potent story.
Looked at as a whole, there’s nothing particularly different in MORGAN that hasn’t been done before in a monster developed in a lab and turned on its maker tale like FRANKENSTEIN, EX-MACHINA, SPECIES, SPLICE, HANNA, and the like. It just does the whole thing with absolute perfection and that’s what makes it a must see, in my opinion. The attention to the struggle between the upstairs and downstairs players is what makes this film different and in many ways, much more realistic and engaging. A late in the game twist works awesomely in MORGAN as does the minimalist sci fi going on. It is quite possible, somewhere in the world, this type of experiment is happening or it will in the very near future. As all science gone wrong tales, this is a precautionary tale that is relevant today as Shelley’s was when she wrote FRANKENSTEIN.
In and out of the theaters, mainly because of what seems to have been a vague and misleading ad campaign, here’s hoping MORGAN finds an audience at home as it really is a ground level sci fi that deserves notice with performances by a cast of people you know and some who will be big, big stars soon enough. The BluRay/DVD release comes with a ton of special features, including deleted scenes, director Luke Scott’s commentary, Scott’s short film LOOM which has shades of MORGAN in it, as well as a behind the scenes featurette looking at the Making of MORGAN.
THE 2015-2016 COUNTDOWN!
#16 – MORGAN
#17 – DEATHGASM
#18 – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
#19 – DER BUNKER
#20 – DECAY
#21 – EMELIE
#22 – NINA FOREVER
#23 – HUSH
#24 – THE MIND’S EYE
#25 – DARLING
#26 – SUN CHOKE
#27 – SUMMER CAMP
#28 – BASKIN
#29 – HOLIDAYS
#30 – THE HALLOW
#31 – SOUTHBOUND
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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