15th Mar2019

‘The Prodigy’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Peter Mooney, Brittany Allen, Colm Feore | Written by Jeff Buhler | Directed by Nicholas McCarthy

the-prodigy-uk-quad-poster

The third horror film from director Nicholas McCarthy (At the Devil’s Door, The Pact), The Prodigy is an entry in the creepy kid genre typified by the likes of Orphan (2009) and Joshua (2007), aka The Devil’s Child. As such it’s something of a mixed bag, delivering a handful of genuinely nasty moments, but let down by a frustrating script that completely ignores the premise implied in the title.

Taylor Schilling (Orange Is The New Black) and Peter Mooney play Sarah and John Blume, a middle-class Pennysylvania couple whose longed-for child is born at the exact same moment that police shoot and kill Hungarian-speaking serial killer Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux) in nearby Ohio. Eight years later, their young son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is attending school for gifted children, after having grown up with an unusually high IQ, as demonstrated in an efficient montage sequence.

However, Miles soon begins exhibiting behavioural problems, like whacking a fellow student with a wrench when he doesn’t get his way or setting a nasty trap for his babysitter (Elisa Moolecherry) – although, to be fair, that’s kind of her fault for going barefoot in the first place. In desperation, Sarah takes Miles to psychologist Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore), who determines that a reincarnated entity is trying to take control of Miles and they’re all in terrible danger.

Creepy kid movies tend to stand or fall on the performance of the child actor in question – to that end, Jackson Robert Scott is extremely effective when he’s playing Miles’ evil side (even subtly altering the character’s physicality), but it has to be said, he’s much less convincing as a normal child, even if you make allowances for the idea that Evil Miles is acting so as to deceive his parents.

As for the adults, it’s hard to see why Schilling took the role, as she’s required to give a very one-note performance, sticking resolutely to concerned / protective parent and showing surprisingly little warmth or humour. Similarly, Mooney is a bland, instantly forgettable presence and the usually excellent Feore doesn’t get to do much with his exposition-heavy role. However, Brittany Allen (What Keeps You Alive) makes a strong impression in her limited role as the serial killer’s escaped victim.

McCarthy knows his way around a jump scare and he pulls off a handful of suitably nasty sequences, though they often fall apart under close scrutiny, such as the question of how Evil Miles is consistently able to conceal a giant pair of hedge clippers. On top of that, with the exception of the final act, several of the horror scenes lack the desired emotional impact, making it seem as if The Prodigy is just going through the motions until it reaches the climax.

The most baffling aspect of the film is the way it sets up the genuinely creepy child genius angle (the prodigy of the title) and then completely ignores it in favour of what is essentially a possession story. That would be fine if the possession angle was meant to be a shock twist, but it’s tipped off right from the start. (In fairness, the film’s original title was Descendant, but that’s not much of an improvement).

On the plus side, McCarthy has an eye for a decent visual (such as Miles taking off his skeleton face make-up) and there are some effectively creepy details layered throughout, such as Miles speaking Hungarian in his sleep. However, a shot towards the end of the film suggests there was originally meant to be a blackly comic element to it and it’s hard not to conclude that The Prodigy would have been a lot more fun if the filmmakers had fully embraced that tongue-in-cheek aspect.

**½  2.5/5

The Prodigy is in UK cinemas from today, Friday March 15th, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.

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