A corporate risk-management consultant must determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s life that was made in a laboratory environment.
Arriving at a compound in a remote patch of lush woods, Lee Weathers, played with cool self-containment by Mara, confronts a wary group of doctors and scientists. Sequestered for five years, and memorably etched by a strong ensemble, the scruffy members of the L9 project team can barely hide their contempt for all that Lee represents — namely, the protection of the company’s image and profit. To the unsettling drone of Max Richter’s fine score, the seeds of mutiny are deftly sown.
The scientists’ involvement with the fast-evolving Morgan have morphed beyond the professional to the parental; project lead Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones, a disquieting mix of jumpy and calm) beams at videos of her progress like a proud papa showing home movies. Where the impassive Lee sees an asset to be managed, he and his colleagues see a child. Indeed, although Morgan looks like a teen and certain aspects of her intelligence are off the charts, she’s only five chronological years old.
With a frosty pallor and penetrating black eyes, Taylor-Joy (The Witch) is androgynous and more than a little otherworldly in hoodie and sneakers. (Lee’s unadorned power getups occupy the other end of the spectrum for the character-defining costumes by Stefano De Nardis.) Morgan lives in a bunker that’s also a laboratory, all geometric stone and glass, and set apart in more ways than one from the other key element of Tom McCullagh’s outstanding production design: the rambling, weathered house the scientists share.
Morgan is less about the conflict between technology and messy human emotion than their entanglement, a mashup both exhilarating and terrifying. The devastating incident that has spurred Lee’s visit, an attack by Morgan on psychiatrist Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is depicted in overhead surveillance video, the shocking brutality filtered through borderline-abstract digital imagery.
Scott will stage far more graphic violent encounters as the movie proceeds, but this one hits hard in the sight of the recuperating Kathy, a bloody bandage over her destroyed eye. She takes full responsibility for the attack, and Leigh makes a powerful impression with her earth-motherly forgiveness and laser-sharp assessment of Lee’s mission. She’s onscreen all too briefly, as is Michelle Yeoh, portraying program director Dr. Cheng, a woman of few words who’s haunted by a previous biotech disaster.