Written by Tom Moore
With an incredibly eerie lead performance and some interesting scares that come from Nicolas McCarthy’s careful direction, The Prodigy gives viewers enough scares to make it good watch.
The film follows a couple, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney), whose son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is incredibly intelligent. As he gets older, Sarah notices that he’s not fitting in at school and seem to always be close to trouble. Typical trouble, though, turns to be more sinister as Miles’ behavior begins to change and Sarah begins to question whether he is the one in control or something much eviler is.
Now, The Prodigy actually seems like it ruins itself right at the start by almost giving away what feels like the film’s big twist in the opening moments. I mean, come on, when a child being born, and a mysterious murderer being killed are paired together, it’s not hard to assume that they are connected. However, I realized throughout the film that having that kind of twist isn’t really a part of McCarthy’s vision for inciting scares. Instead, he goes for having more uncomfortable tension spiked with dramatic irony.
At first, I thought the film would be much more supernatural and that it would over-explain why Miles was taken over by this second personality. But it never does and it never really needs to anyway. The opening pretty much spells it out and a few other minor characters give quick examples of reincarnation and how it has affected Miles. The film’s focus on reincarnation rather than demon possession also made it a little more grounded and makes the performance from Scott a little more believable and eerie.
Just as creepy is Scott’s solid split-personality performance, that’s both intriguing and terrifying to see. He switches from having the cute personality of Miles to the second and crueler personality pretty seamlessly and it leads to plenty of memorable scares thanks to McCarthy’s camera work. While McCarthy definitely still uses some typical jump scares and has Miles say and do volatile things that just feel like they exist to add shock value, he still creates some surprisingly scary moments through quick cuts between perspectives, some imagery that shows Miles’s duality, and placing scares in moments where audiences would normally feel safe.
There’s an appreciation to be had for McCarthy’s efforts to divert from how other “creepy kid” movies bring their scares, but I just wish more of this effort were put into developing other characters and the story. While her performance isn’t bad, Schilling’s Sarah could use much more time to develop as the film’s opening moments with her and her husband don’t give much insight into them as characters and the story jumps around a lot. This all makes Sarah a little tough to feel anything towards or to get a read on her feelings.
This is especially true when it comes to the film’s finale as I found myself questioning Sarah decisions and why she makes what feels like an oddly evil choice. Frankly, the film loses itself with Sarah’s decision to SPOILER do the evil personality’s bidding to get her son back as there’s very little definition to her and Miles’s relationship and it comes off as mostly generic throughout the film. Honestly, I kept questioning how much she really loved her son and it constantly comes off as Sarah being generically afraid of Miles rather than her dealing with the complex situation of her conflicting feeling towards her own son.
The film even presents an interesting complexity towards the end, which feels very similar to that of The Omen regarding what happens to Miles. It begs the question of how much Miles’s personality is really there. However, the film never really does anything with it and goes for more of a “shocking” ending that feels much more generic than complex.
So, while The Prodigy doesn’t necessarily live up to its name, it does have enough effort put into it to make it much smarter than the average creepy kid horror film.