Morgan is one of the slickest genre flicks I’ve seen in recent years, finely tuned like a barbed wire tightrope, full of nasty surprises, throat ripping action and that ever present ethical turmoil that hangs about in any films that deal with artificial humanoid beings. It’s only weakness is exactly that stylistic strength: it’s so tight and streamlined that one occasionally feels like the scales tip in the favour of style over substance, but it’s a minor quibble when you take a step back and look at just how entertaining and fired up this piece is. The filmmakers are minimally concerned with the moral grey areas that cloning wades into, and subsequent philosophical pondering, but more than anything they just want to pull the ripcord and blast full throttle into an adrenaline soaked, R-rated sci-if tale with vague aspects of a character study. The title refers to Morgan (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy in a performance both terrifying and heartbreaking), a genetically engineered humanoid girl held at a secluded facility alongside researchers, one of which she has just had a violent incident with. The corporate honcho (Brian Cox in a sly, all too brief honcho) dispatches a cold, clinical asset in the form of Kate Mara, sent to assess the situation and implement any measures necessary. She is an outsider, a callous bicep who flexes at the whims of the company. The researchers and handlers, however, are not. They have grown up around Morgan, invested time and, somewhat unwisely, emotion into her and will stop at nothing to ensure her survival. Paternal Toby Jones, opinionated Jennifer Jason Leigh and compassionate Rose Leslie prove to be a formidable armada against Mara’s evaluation, and tensions arise. Morgan has her own cloudy agenda though, and whether by flawed design, ghost in the shell syndrome or pure survival instinct, proves to be the greatest danger of all. She experiences people at their best, worst and most enigmatic, and her startling behaviour is a reflection of all of it, and a sobering example of humanity’s pitiful inability to perfect the creation of artificial life, at least in this film’s universe anyway. From Mara’s threatening presence, to an intense evaluation from a particularly nasty psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti overacting so hard he almost sucks the set dec up into his orbit), it’s no wonder Morgan snaps. Now when she snaps, the film more or less whips all its chips on the table, flips said table and hulk slams it two floors down. All subtlety and thought provocation kind of get left in the dust as everything careens towards an especially visceral climax, and that’s okay, as long as it doesn’t leave you feeling underwhelmed. I kind of had the intuition it was going to take the rambunctious root overall, and took comfort in the fact that it at least somewhat focused on the delicate aspects earlier on. It’s a well oiled machine, impeccably casted, given just enough pathos to keep our sentimental sides invested, and more than enough visceral hullabaloo to get our pulses dancing, all set to a score both thundering and graceful. Great stuff.
The Witch offers up an oppresively freaky folktale that still manages to go for broke with demented and disturbing stuff, whilst still keeping it moody and reigned in in equal measure, walking an admirable tightrope with style on one side, substance on the other. The substance lies in the interpersonal relationships between a hapless New England pioneer family trying to hack it alone in the land, living next to a deep dark forest that serves home to the titular cretin, plaguing their existence at every turn. The style lies in that forest, as well as a musical score that kwill shake your bones up and then some, accenting a tale of religious dread, insidious distrust and primal paranoia in a time before reason had grasped humanity, it seems. Plus there’s a big scary fucking goat called Black Philip who seems sentient, which was enough to give me the creepin willies. The family is booted from a plantation for some vague religious politics involving the haughty patriarch (Ralph Ineson is excellently fervent and riled up). Tryon to start a homestead on their own proves to be one nightmare after another out there though, especially when virginal daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy, a striking beauty) loses the young baby during a split second game of peekaboo on the outskirts of the forest. Things go depressingly downhill from there as the collective sanity of this clan starts to evaporate into feverish mania, while the woods and the witch constantly loom over everything. The dialogue is all period specific which helps with authenticity, and as far as atmosphere goes, you practically drown in it, quite an achievement really. I took quite a long time in getting to see this, and I didn’t quite expect then level of literal horror on display. I was thinking it’d be more unseen, metaphorical, slow paced. It really does mean witch though, as well as that nasty damn goat. You’ll watch your back at the petting zoo after sitting through this one. Well done.