MORGAN This film was originally set to star Tracy Morgan!

AS WE SLIDE into the late-summer multiplex doldrums, movies with neurons to spare are especially welcome. The clinical cautionary tale Morgan happily fits into the latter category, moving past some early familiarity to become a smart, sneakily ambitious thriller.

Set in the not too distant future, the story follows a no-nonsense corporate troubleshooter (Kate Mara) sent to a secluded forest compound to assess the status of a rapidly developing artificial humanoid (The Witch’s terrifically spooky Anya Taylor-Joy). As she and the swiftly dwindling team of scientists—including Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a perfectly assholish Paul Giamatti—soon discover, the experiment has some significant gray areas.

Director Luke Scott is unquestionably Sir Ridley’s kid, and his full-length debut features many of the same hallmarks as his father: immaculate future-noir design work, rumbling sound schemes, and the no-big-deal depiction of women as equals. (Michelle Yeoh and Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie are, as always, especially great.) Promisingly, he also brings some additional skills of his own, such as a knack for establishing character in just a few beats and a genuinely distressing treatment of the script’s pivot from sci-fi to outright horror. When violence does occur, the depiction is nasty, brutish, and swift, intelligently tying into the overall themes of inhumanity and eminent domain.

Morgan’s biggest downside, really, is simply that last year’s Ex Machina got here first, tackling many of the same issues (and some of the same scenery) in a more audience-friendly, immediately satisfying way. Still, that second-banana status shouldn’t negate this film’s virtues, most notably the impressive sense of chilly remove that lingers past the final enigmatic frames. If you’re a sucker for movies where scientists tamper in God’s domain, this should give you plenty to chew on.