The elevator pitch for The Prodigy is pretty straightforward. Imagine Child’s Play, except Charles Lee Ray possess Andy out of the gate, instead of a doll. That’s no spoiler, mind you. The teaser trailer makes clear that Miles, our titular prodigy, plays host to the soul of a much older person. The opening five minutes intercuts between the death of a murderous psychopath and Miles’ birth.
The balance of the opening act follows beats familiar to any parent who has raised a gifted, yet troubled, child. Miles shows remarkable intelligence, but is slow to develop social skills. By the act one break, the worst nightmare manifests as Miles begins to show mood swings and sociopathic tendencies. As the tagline goes, there’s something wrong with Miles.
Jackson Robert Scott (It, Fear the Walking Dead) is magnificent as Miles. The script requires Scott to speak in varying cadences and alter his facial expressions to demonstrate the two spirits inhabiting his body. Imagine a ten year old flipping a switch between Haley Joel Osment one minute, and Isaac from Children of the Corn the next. It’s a heavy load and Scott shoulders it well. Meanwhile, Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black), as Miles’ mother, turns in a solid performance despite some of the more unbelievable turns she’s required to make.
Unfortunately, the screenplay, written by Jeff Buhler (Pet Sematary, The Midnight Meat Train), loses a bit of steam during the ‘parents-try-to-figure-out-what’s-wrong’ portion of the story. Granted, it makes sense that the parents would struggle. But we already know “what’s wrong with Miles,” making the already tedious portion of any possession film even more so. Even in the latter half, the story throws motivations, logic, and common sense out the window for the convenience of the plot.
Moreover, the film sets up a perfect, chilling climax with so many possibilities. Sadly, it just as quickly discards the premise, in favor of an unsatisfying, and unnecessarily dour, ending. The ending feels pre-ordained, as if The Prodigy were a prequel to some other film.
These weaknesses threaten to derail the movie. Fortunately, it’s saved by Scott’s jaw-dropping performance and some tense and terrifying sequences. Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, At The Devil’s Door) directs some of the unlikeliest scares in ages. I didn’t think an eight year old saying “Go fuck yourself” in his sleep could send chills down my spine, yet here we are.
Overall, The Prodigy is well shot and well acted. While the plot conveniences are unfortunate, they’re also no worse than many horror films. It’s worth a viewing for Jackson Robert Scott’s performance alone, along with several genuinely frightening scenes.
The Prodigy is in theaters nationwide on February 8, 2019.
‘The Prodigy’ Gets A Passing Grade [Review]
A flawed but mostly entertaining film with one solid performance, and one outstanding performance. Excels in areas where a horror film must to be successful, prompting some audiences to not ask for any more.