the prodigy review

Rhoda from The Bad Seed. Those albino creeps from Children of the Damned. Little Michael Myers from the opening scene of Halloween. Damien from The Omen. Henry from The Good Son. Those corn-shucking killers from Children of the Corn. Esther from Orphan. And on, and on. Killer kids are a mainstay in horror films, constantly being trotted out to give off innocent grins that give way to terrifying glares. Can anything new be added to this sub-genre at this point? I don’t really know.

If you’re looking for something new, you definitely shouldn’t get too excited about The Prodigy, the latest killer kid horror flick to grace the silver screen. This creepshow is so beholden to its forbearers that you could probably devise a drinking game around all the familiar tropes it abides by. By the time the movie ends, you’ll have alcohol poisoning.

That’s not to say The Prodigy is something to be casually tossed off. In fact, Nicholas McCarthy‘s horror film has a lot going for it. McCarthy’s direction is certainly assured, and not at all lazy, like the work of so many modern horror filmmakers. The director, who is also responsible for the very creepy indie horror film The Pact, has a great handle on camera movement and placement – he always knows the right spot to place the camera for maximum tension, with shadows lurking around the frame.

On top of that, The Prodigy is surprisingly vicious. The film very much leans into its R-rating, not pulling its punches, and delivering some nasty moments that you usually don’t see in such mainstream horror releases. There’s nothing watered down here, and there’s a viciousness that leaves a chill in your bones. In fact, I’d say the film might even be too vicious.

As The Prodigy opens, we see a young woman escape from the run-down house of a serial killer. She brings the cops, who proceed to gun the killer down. Just as the murder is dying, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) is in the hospital giving birth. By using some clever match-cuts, McCarthy parallels the baby’s birth with the killer’s death, and the implication is clear: a connection has been made. Sarah and her husband John (Peter Mooney) name the baby boy Miles, and he ends up being incredibly gifted. He starts speaking before he’s a year old, and the older he gets, and the more tests he undergoes, the clearer it becomes that Miles might be a genius.

But by the time Miles is 8 (and now played by It actor Jackson Robert Scott), his attitude begins to change. He’s no longer the sweet, smart boy he used to be. Now, he’s prone to sudden bursts of violence – he beats a classmate with a wrench, and leaves a nasty trap for a babysitter. Miles claims to have no memory of these violent deeds, and at night, as he sleeps, Sarah overhears him speaking in what she thinks is gibberish. It turns out to be Hungarian. How is this small boy so fluent in Hungarian?

The Prodigy doesn’t waste anytime jumping right into the madness. Almost immediately after the trouble starts, Sarah is introduced to a soft-spoken doctor (Colm Feore) who studies reincarnation. He instantly concludes that Miles actually has the soul of another person trapped in his body, and that if they can figure out what the soul wants, they can get rid of it. Of course, since we saw the opening of the film, and these characters didn’t, we know that the soul trapped in Miles is that of a serial killer. The swiftness in which this reincarnation realization arises is jarring. In William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, we see the possessed young girl played by Linda Blair undergo several invasive medical procedures before the doctors, utterly stumped, suggest exorcism. Here, exorcism is more or less the very first remedy suggested. It’s cheap, lazy writing like this that hampers The Prodigy, and keeps it from ever taking off.

Thankfully, most of the cast members are able to rise above the lackluster, and rather predictable, script. Schilling does a lot of heavy lifting playing a character who quickly gives into the reincarnation idea, and while it’s not at all believable, she mostly sells it with her emotional state. We can believe that she’s so desperate for an answer that she would accept anything. And Scott, as the creepy kid at the center of this all, is excellent at switching from sweet and innocent too mean and scary (side-note: there’s one scene where Miles has to spit out some rather vulgar words, and rather than have the young Scott deliver them, McCarthy had a voice-actor imitating Scott’s voice for some overdubbing. I get why this was done, and I respect the choice, but it’s extremely distracting).

As The Prodigy built towards an effective third act, I started to think that the movie might just defy expectations and stick the landing. It wasn’t to be. While the entire back half of this film is particularly unpleasant, it’s also woefully predictable – just like the rest of the film. All the films I mentioned at the start of this review? The Prodigy borrows scenes and ideas from all of them. Every twist that the movie seems to think is shocking is something you’ve seen before. The Prodigy deserves credit for being willing to go to some dark places, and as far as killer kid movies go, you can do a lot worse. But I just wish this movie had something more to say than just the same old song.

/Film rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net