The Prodigy, 2019.
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy.
Starring Taylor Schilling, Brittany Allen, Jackson Robert Scott, Colm Feore, Peter Mooney, and Paul Fauteux.
A mother concerned about her young son’s disturbing behavior thinks something supernatural may be affecting him.
The film opens with a muddied, distraught woman rushing through the forest seeking help. The film then cuts to a calm woman who is driving along the vacant country road listening to radio-friendly tunes. It continues this back-and-forth editing technique to establish the collision of unknown terror and the tranquil. This prologue also firmly establishes the jump scares that shall abound the rest of the film. Important to note: neither of these characters is the protagonist.
Establishing this collision of worlds, the film continues this contrasted trajectory for the remainder of the first act. In another back-and-forth editing technique (establishing the same themes, albeit with different characters); the isolated psychotic killer Edward Scarka is seeking the escaped handless woman on the one hand (no pun intended), and a tranquil family being tranquil who are expecting their first child is occuring on the other. This tranquil family are the lead protagonists: married couple Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) are expecting their first child – Miles. Miles is born at the exact same time Edward is shot dead by police. With very quick introductions through clunky dialogue and exposition, the film establishes a link between the death of the killer and the birth of the son.
Their son turns out to be a prodigy, though not without side effects of poor social interaction and early signs of psychopathy. Herein lies a secondary issue, as the establishment of Miles’ psychopathy lacks many nuances. The filmmakers portray Miles’ killer tendencies that lean into the camp. Eye-rollingly obvious signifiers of “Miles is dangerous” at play here.
The film’s runtime is 90mins, yet all of the above, including the son’s first signs of psychopathy, are firmly established within the first 20 mins. With nowhere else to go, and nothing else to establish until the 3rd act, the film grinds to halt, only to show more and more “shocking” moments from the titular creepy kid.
Jumpscares abound, the son’s dangerous behaviour worsens, and desperate parents needing help, they seek an explanation. This film, from here onward, will divide audiences. In a cliched infodump of exposition, we’re told precisely what’s really happening. After hearing the said explanation, audiences will either find it dull and kinda insane. For this reviewer and 90% of the audience, I saw this screening with, the explanation, and the solution is ludicrous and hilarious. To say any more would lean into spoiler territory, but needless to say, it’s a cliched 3rd act infodump that may earn some chuckles. The remainder of future jumpscares and macabre actions committed will only add to it.
Aside from poor narrative choices and a 3rd act oddity, the performances help keep the film engaging. The chemistry between Schilling and Mooney captures a young couple understanding the territory of parenthood with their first kid. Schilling, in particular, gives a grounded performance, even, when, the film’s 3rd act kicks in. Jackson Robert Scott as Miles often gives a strong performance, balancing the uncontrollable, psychotic episodes with a terrified child learning the consequences of his actions.
The Prodigy is a forgettable, tedious horror film that few will remember come this summer. Fun fact: I counted seventeen jumpscares in this throwaway horror.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★