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Kate Mara, right, portrays a corporate risk-management consultant sent to assess whether a bioengineered ‘human’ with synthetic DNA should be terminated.

Aidan Monaghan

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Morgan
Written by
Seth W, Owen
Directed by
Luke Scott
Starring
Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rose Leslie
Genre
Drama
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2016

I've never quite understood the appeal of horror movies. I don't appreciate the adrenaline rush some people love as they watch killers jump out from shadowy corners and little girls take on terrifying Satanic qualities. But even I, a self-prescribed horror movie skeptic, found myself wrapped up in Morgan – I was invested in the characters, I (mostly) bought into the plot and even found myself embracing some of the gore by the end.

Thankfully, Luke Scott's directorial debut attempts to move beyond the shock factor and jump scares that most of its genre stablemates capitalize on. This might be why the film bleeds slightly into other formulas – it could easily be classified as a drama, a mystery, a sci-fi lesson of why it's never a good idea to play God, etc. This isn't to say Scott doesn't occassionally rely on classic scary-movie thrills – but, mostly, it concentrates on developing its intriguing narrative and believable characters.

The film follows Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a corporate risk-management consultant, as she is sent to a remote and secret location. She's there to assess Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), a bioengineered "human" with synthetic DNA, and determine through studying her and the scientists and behaviourists who have raised her, whether she should be terminated or not.

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While the film begins with a terrifying scene, it quickly slows down. From there, Scott and his cast ease viewers into the narrative – while still leaving them constantly on edge as they wait for the genre shift from drama and mystery to full-on horror. The combination of unnerving music and Taylor-Joy's top-notch acting, depicting Morgan as both enigmatic and unpredictable, create an unsettled atmosphere. It's also hard to forget the skillfully executed shots throughout the film, which add to the sense of foreboding and isolation, from sprawling deserted landscapes to eerie shots of Morgan, cloaked in shadow or reflected in transparent surfaces.

What truly places the film above its horror brethren, though, is how it successfully delves into the complexity of the relationships each researcher has with Morgan, as they struggle to view her as both family and test subject. At times it dips into the familiar territory of cliché, when everyone in the theatre knows the characters are being naïve to the dangers they are facing.

But the film's major shortcoming is saved for its ending. The filmmakers employ various twists, which work to varying degrees. The final plot turn adds layers of complexity to the story, forcing viewers to re-examine what they thought was fact throughout the past hour and a half. Unfortunately, just before this occurs, there are a number of other plot twists that diminish the success of that final revelation.

But no amount of confusion could diminish the film's success in leaving me unsettled, with a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach after leaving the theatre. "I'm feeling not quite myself," Morgan tells Weathers during the film. And after spending an hour and a half watching her slowly unravel, I have to say, same here, Morgan.

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