Courtesy of Orion
Children doing evil and unspeakable acts of violence towards adults is nothing new to mainstream horror cinema. You could cite at least five or six examples starting with Damian from “The Omen” or even lesser known works like “Godsend.” The key to Nicholas McCarthy’s latest dive into the genre called “The Prodigy” isn’t that he’s trying to copy those movies, but merely using them as inspiration.
“The Prodigy” is littered with surprisingly effective jump scares and has an unpredictable final act that, by horror movie standards, is commendable. When you think about it, all a horror movie needs to do is provoke you, and if “The Prodigy” only accomplishes that feat twice within a 90 minute span, I’d consider that a win. But when the film isn’t spending its time setting up the usual troupes of genre scares, “The Prodigy’s” family drama serves it well.
Taylor Schilling’s Sarah has been trying for years to have a child, and by the means of cheap screenwriting she’s blessed with a beautiful, seemingly harmless baby boy named Miles. Speeding through milestones faster than a 100 meter dash, we find out that Miles is exceptionally smart for his age. A highly intelligent tyke who started going to preschool when he was three years old, and is now enrolled in a school for privileged students. How could this be?
A convincing Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie from “It”) plays Miles at age eight, and he’s about the cutest thing on the planet. That is until he starts murdering pets and bludgeoning classmates with a plumbers wrench, and if you understand horror movie lore at all, you’ll guess within the first twenty minutes how or why this kids got the killing bug. Why McCarthy choose to reveal the true cause behind the kids tendencies in the opening credits is beyond me, but Scott keeps a consistently eerie mood over his performance. You don’t want to mess with this kid, and McCarthy plays into it.
Of course side characters like doctors and physicians come into the picture to try and explain how preposterous the scenario is (the kid speaks a rare dialect of hungarian in his sleep!) but I doubt the target audience is seeking answers on the kids backstory, I think the’ll be more hyped about his methods of hiding the bodies.
Schilling pulls layers from a role that requires her to just stand, react, and gawk at the tomfoolery Miles becomes entangled in, building to a loose climax that lingers on the brain afterwards for all the wrong reasons. Audiences might walk out feeling cheated, but as the distress grows larger, and the framing gets tighter and the score erupts louder, “The Prodigy” for all its recycled “Child’s Play” ingredients, is just spooky enough to work.