There are a lot of forgivable sins for thrillers. They can have thin characters, they can be completely implausible from premise to execution, and they can even be internally inconsistent if the result is a good amount of tension, but they cannot be boring. Morgan is a boring movie. Not all the way through but overwhelmingly and even in a third act tripping over itself to twist the audience every which way, I never quite got over the fact that the movie had never made me care.
When I first saw the trailer to Morgan, I thought it looked like they were trying to remake Alien but with a much lower budget. There were all these tight corridor shots and a seldom seen monster but instead of a spaceship it was in a house and instead of an elaborate monster it was a pale girl. It’s very possible I was primed to see these similarities because of the “produced by Ridley Scott” credit. I’m happy to report that Morgan is not the Alien remake I thought it was. There’s a dinner scene that sure seems evocative and the way everyone is always talking about directives from a nebulous “corporate” but it more or less ends there. There are some parts heavily borrowed from Blade Runner and those are a little more troubling, but I suppose if I was a first time director and my famous father was paying for my first movie I might do some things I’d know he liked.
I shouldn’t be so hard on these moments of borrowing from old Ridley Scott films, because figuring out why scenes seemed familiar was the most interesting part of the film. Put that aside and you have a lifeless thriller with a mostly muted color palate and there’s just nothing to be entertained by. Paul Giamatti has a small part and it’s a shame, because his big scene is easily the best in the film. He seems willing to pick an emotion and go with it, which is more than the rest of the film can say when every emotional response peaks with a stray tear after a big speech. I also want to give the movie and Rose Leslie credit for having a character react to the kind of intense trauma a supernatural thriller puts a person through by being overwhelmed, shutting down, and kind of leaning in to a Stockholm syndrome kind of response. It’s an interesting response in a movie dying for interesting. Without these flashes of above average we have a movie with predictable scares, obvious twists, and bland visuals. What else is there for a movie to offer?
I struggle to dump on a movie so heavily when it’s the first effort by a director in a low budget film, and then I remembered that I had just seen the directorial debut of Travis Knight. Comparing this movie to Kubo and the Two Strings feels unfair, especially when you compare the budgets ($8 million to $60 million) and maybe it is— but animation is more expensive than two sets and some woods. And you can’t buy storytelling or tension or fun, and one movie had it in spades and the other is picking over scraps. Morgan is a movie I left wanting to talk about the allusions to Ridley Scott films and how intentional they were but secretly thankful that, statistically, I’ll never meet anyone else that’s seen it because I don’t want my family, friends, and acquaintances to have suffered through this movie like I did.