A large, heavily secured mansion in the middle of nowhere. A team of co-workers who spout long, jargon-filled speeches while dropping hints about their secret science project. A young girl of unusual origin who seems to inspire equal amounts of love and fear in those raising her. These generic elements are tossed together in Luke Scott's debut feature Morgan to create a kind of horror/science fiction casserole that carries the viewer along well enough. Yet the film fades from memory almost as soon as it ends, and comes with a script so oddly erratic that you would almost believe it was part improvisation, part screenwriting via Mad Libs.
At the center of the action is the titular Morgan, a genetically advanced young woman who is five years old but going on fifteen (actress Anya Taylor-Joy was nineteen when the film was made). She was created by an unidentified corporate sponsor for purposes that never entirely make sense. When Morgan begins to show signs of what her keepers try to excuse as typical adolescent stress (you know, the usual growing pains: She listens to opera, wears a hoodie and stabs a doctor in the eye), the home office sends in Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), a gun-toting risk management specialist, to assess — or terminate — the project. Predictably, things start to go downhill from there.
With its isolated team of scientists facing a seemingly unstoppable threat, some might see a slight connection to Ridley Scott's Alien. And, indeed, that Scott is the director's father, and the film's producer. But Morgan is closer in tone to a slasher film; you just sit back and watch the cast slowly shrink.
Michelle Yeoh and Toby Jones appear briefly to add a touch of maturity to the proceedings; they're the senior scientists who are treated as Morgan's surrogate parents, albeit rather distant ones, when the script demands it. Paul Giamatti also shows up briefly as a psychologist so aggressively obnoxious (because that's Giamatti's specialty these days) that you know he's a dead man the first time he opens his mouth.
Once Giamatti unwittingly arouses his young subject's inner Rambo, Morgan becomes a modestly paced and wholly unbelievable action film, with clean-up specialist Weathers determined to dispatch the young girl, who is equally determined to get rid of anyone else in her path. Though the film occasionally brushes against potentially serious themes — the ethics of bioengineering, the dangers of corporate-sponsored science and whether the ability to become a powerful killing machine is innate or learned behavior — the director recoils from them, quickly finding new distractions in bone-breaking and mayhem. For better or worse Morgan has been as deliberately engineered as its subject, designed to be nothing more than a slim line of credibility-challenged horror plot twists and over-the-top fight scenes between two young women. It's fast, efficient and ultimately forgettable.