“The Prodigy” follows an idealistic couple welcoming their son, Miles. Miles has proven himself to be wise well above his years, hence the title Prodigy. When Miles grows to be 8, he begins to act disturbingly strange, causing the couple to question whether the son is possessed by an unknown force.
Running at a brisk 92 minutes, “The Prodigy’ wastes no time getting started. After opening with a literal BANG, we’re introduced to the birth of Miles and the major moments in his life leading up to current day Miles all within a span of roughly 7 minutes. From then, the film moves at an exceptional pace. That pace is something that helps guide “The Prodigy” to a fun, if unremarkable journey.
The Prodigy” is a surprisingly dark take on the bad-seed sub genre. Even with the R-rating, there are a handful of legitimately shocking moments you wouldn’t expect from a film revolving around a 10-year old actor.
Much of the films success goes to the rather brave performance from Jackson Robert Scott. Scott, who is most famous from playing other notable creepy child Georgie from 2017’s “It”, is something of a sight to behold here. He’s able to effectively switch between cute kid to demonic hell-spawn with the drop of a hat, sometimes within the same shot. Although he was more than ok in “It”, he did have the advantage of CG and post-production trickery to aid his more horrifying moments. Here, the creep-factor is based almost solely on his performance and Scott proves he is more than up for the task. I would argue he’s this films secret weapon.
Most of the cast surrounding him all give performances ranging from great to bland. “Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling gives a strong performance as Miles’ conflicted mother who is faced with a dark dilemma in trying to save her son. Colm Feore chews the scenery quite nicely as Miles’ doctor attempting to identify what force is haunting him. Feore and Scott share the films best scene together in a tense therapy session that almost echoes the diner scene in Michael Mann’s “Heat”… but with a small evil child instead of a bank-robbing De Niro.
The weak link is the cast, however, is Peter Mooney as Miles’ father. It’s not a bad performance, per se, but it’s a remarkably bland and hollow one. Partly due to the script shortchanging his character consistently, but Mooney just seems miscast. You don’t buy him as a loving father and you don’t buy him when he’s ready to take action later in the film.
Penned by Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train), the script is more often-than-not the biggest downfall. The premise is actually quite absurd, yet compelling. The film takes multiple left turns that will catch you off guard, for the better. It has the makings of twisty, crazed horror thriller, but the plotting is too routine and generic. Even with the rote dialogue, you can’t help but go with the film on its more depraved turns, but seldom is the direction noteworthy enough to make much of an impact.
Director Nicholas McCathy (The Pact), does nicely build tension on more than a handful of occasions and pulls of some effective jump scares, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much more successful this film would’ve been with a more stylish director. The presentation of “The Prodigy” is fairly workmanlike and with a script as routine as it is, this desperately needed a more sophisticated eye for visuals. McCarthy is clearly a good director of actors and is skilled at staging fine set pieces, but his style or lack thereof, lessens the potential of the story.
The film also goes on for one scene too long. It actually robs the film of a potentially chilling ending with a remarkable final shot, but it keeps going and feels the need to spell everything out for the audience.
It’s not as outlandish or twisted as “Orphan” and it’s not even as campy as the Macaulay Culkin-led “The Good Son”. However, a great lead performance from Jackson Robert Scott and some refreshing dark turns make “The Prodigy” a slightly better-than-average horror thriller.