Making dark, speculative movies about synthetic humans is now officially a Scott family tradition.
Luke Scott, 48, had the world’s best resource when he set out to make Morgan, a film about a very unstable and lethal young woman who spawned from lab-created DNA. Ridley Scott, his father and producer, is perhaps the foremost authority on movies about the inhuman condition, having made genre classics such as Blade Runner and Alien. And though he didn’t write the original draft of the Morgan script, Luke Scott says it was Alien, and the subsequent films it inspired, that provided him a blueprint from which to build the film’s titular character.
In particular, he points to the Ash android character, played by Ian Holm in the 1979 classic, as a touchstone for the creepy young woman played in his film by Anya Taylor-Joy.
“Ash was a new kind of robot that the world hadn’t really been introduced to at that point — they had only seen computer-based robots with cogs and wires and dials and chips, not something that was something that was organic,” Scott said, explaining just how groundbreaking Ash was for audience members. “So the shock when the Ash character gets its head ripped off and a whole bunch of white stuff comes out and it’s really an eye opener, like, wow, what is that?”
Morgan offers no visual clues that she is something other, or greater, than human. She looks like a teenager (though we’re told she’s five-years-old), and her cold searching gaze is jarring, but it requires exposition to explain that she is a science experiment. Unlike Ash, she is not an android, and her wounds bleed like our own, but the lack of any traditional sci-fi cues fill in the uncanny valley; to the viewer, she is wholly human, at least in the film’s first half.
Scott also found inspiration from other traditional playing-god stories, including Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and myths around creation in the Bible itself. He looked beyond sci-fi, too, citing the tone of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, and the claustrophobic “cult-like atmosphere” of the 2011 thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, as other major influences.
It all goes back to Ridley Scott, though, who both provided Luke his formative filmmaking experiences — the son worked as his prodigious father’s second unit director on Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Martian — and plenty of material help along the way as both mentor and producer.
“Having the access that the reputation offers you was amazing. Maybe I would not have been able to get that good a cast together based on my reputation alone,” Scott laughed, highlighting a star-laden cast that included Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. “And during the editorial process he gave really great sage advice. He was very clear about making it a quicker movie, upping the pace, killing a lot of your children. There was stuff that was repetitive that didn’t need to be put there. What you have is a fairly stripped down, streamlined story.”
At a tight 90 minutes, Morgan hits theaters on Friday.