The T-shirt-friendly expression “Second place is just the first loser” isn’t always true of movies. On May 21st, 1993, Roger Corman released Carnosaur, a film about a scientist who brings dinosaurs to life, with terrifying consequences. This didn’t get in the way of Jurassic Park becoming a hit a few weeks later. In 1998, Armageddon and Deep Impact didn’t really get in each others’ way. And so on. Yet some movies make it hard to shake a sense of déjà vu. Consider, for instance, Morgan, in which the eponymous bioengineered creation, a mix of flesh and artificial intelligence played by The Witch‘s Anya-Taylor Joy, sits behind a wall of glass and conducts conversations with those trying to figure out where humanity ends and machine begins.
If that sounds a bit like Ex Machina, there’s good reason for that. It is a lot like Ex Machina, down to a remote location and a creeping sense its inhabitants might have lost their grip on reality. The resemblance is almost certainly coincidental. Written by Seth Owen, the film’s screenplay made the Black List of best unproduced screenplays in 2014. But in a “Who Wore It Better?”-style face off, it can’t help but look like a lesser to examining some of the same themes.
Of course, if anyone has a right to make a movie exploring the thin line between man and machine it’s Luke Scott, whose father Ridley carved out that territory as his own with Alien and Blade Runner. Here the younger Scott brings a seemingly inherited command of moody stylishness to the film from the first scene, in which Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) attempts to talk to Morgan about some recent disturbing behavior only to receive a knife in her eye for her trouble.
Soon risk-management specialist Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is dispatched by the company behind the research to see what’s going on, and advise whether the project should be saved or scrapped. Warned by the off-screen voice of her boss (Brian Cox) that the team living in a remote, sprawling house in the woods “might have drifted off the original project,” she arrives to find a situation more akin to a hippie commune than a science lab.