Recently revived Orion Pictures released The Prodigy earlier this year. Tucked in between Escape Room and Happy Death Day 2U, Nicholas McCarthy’s ‘creepy kids’ horror movie scraped together just enough to turn a profit. Think of it as a supernatural variation on 2009’s Orphan. But with so many ‘bad seeds in horror, is The Prodigy gifted enough to stand out?
On an August evening, Ohio police shoot down serial killer Edward Scarka after a victim escapes his homemade cell. That same evening, married couple Sarah and John welcome their first child, a baby boy they named Miles. As an infant, Miles shows signs of being extraordinarily gifted. But as he grows up, Miles’ gifts give way to more disturbing behaviour. Faced with her son’s inexplicable actions, Sarah fears that some supernatural evil is corrupting Miles.
The Prodigy’s Familiar Story Not All That Gifted
In spite of its title, The Prodigy doesn’t feel like a particularly gifted horror movie. In fact, most horror fans will find Jeff Buhler’s story almost rote. Creepy kid horror movies are practically their own subgenre. While the source of evil varies – maybe they’re just psychopaths or it could be demonic possession – the basic narrative remains the same. A child’s increasingly ominous behaviour repeatedly confronts initially clueless parents. If you’ve watched enough horror movies, you can probably easily rhyme of a list of these movies. Alice, Sweet, Alice, The Omen, Village of the Damned, Bloody Birthday, The Children, The Unborn, Orphan, The Good Son, etc.
…Buhler’s screenplay does little to distinguish The Prodigy from other ‘creepy kid’ movies.
Unfortunately, Buhler’s screenplay does little to distinguish The Prodigy from other ‘creepy kid’ movies. Things start off promisingly, too. The Prodigy’s incongruent opening events tease enough mystery to hook you. While you ultimately know the overarching blueprint, the ‘bird crumbs’ story-telling approach works for a while. But once the movie’s mystery tips its hand, the story derails. Left with no other surprises, The Prodigy’s conclusion ultimately underwhelms.
Early Creepy Filmmaking Falls Apart in the Final Act
What salvages The Prodigy, at least for most of its runtime, is its genuinely creepy scares. Director Nicholas McCarthy, whose previous credits include the underrated The Pact, steers the movie in the right direction. Though the scares lean heavily on ‘loud sounds’ and quick edits, McCarthy puts just enough focus on build-up to deliver a satisfying balance between jolts and suspense. For nearly an hour, you get a pretty scary, if unoriginal, horror movie.
…the scares seem to actually recede in the climax.
Things eventually come apart in the movie’s final act. Aside from some incoherent character decisions and the derivative storytelling, McCarthy fails to amp up the scares. To some extent, the scares seem to actually recede in the climax. Perhaps McCarthy and Buhler thought they had a real shocker of a twist. Whatever the case, The Prodigy’s ending feels more perfunctory than shocking. Part of the problem may stem from a general lack of atmosphere. In addition, if there was a musical score, it leaves absolutely no impression.
The Prodigy’s Cast Doesn’t Do Much With The Material
Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling headlines The Prodigy. Schilling’s ‘Piper’ is probably the least compelling character on her Netflix series, and she won’t turn many heads here. Neither bad nor good, Schilling’s performance may best be described as servicable. Equally bland is Peter Mooney as husband and father, John. He’s kind of a watered down Skeet Ulrich. In a small role, Canadian actor Colm Feore feels wasted. And child actor Jackson Robert Scott (It) is perfectly reciting the shocking dialogue, he won’t make you forget Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son.
The Prodigy’s ‘Bad Son Omen’ Doesn’t Amount To Much
The Prodigy isn’t a bad movie. It’s certainly a watchable horror flick and more than adequate time-waster. For at least an hour or so, The Prodigy even offers up some decent scares. Bland performances, unoriginal storytelling, and an underwhelming final act drag things down. What’s left is a dull supernatural horror movie you’re not likely to remember by mid-year.