Director: Nicholas McCarthy
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott
You know what I realized on the drive home from watching The Prodigy? Its title is completely irrelevant. If the character played by Jackson Robert Scott was completely average-minded, the film would be no different. No spark of genius is necessary for the events of Nicholas McCarthy’s new film to take place. And, unlike in the character of Miles Blume, there’s no genius to be found in The Prodigy.
This irrelevancy is only one of many problems, my main issue being the level of disappoint I received after watching the first fifteen minutes. There’s great horrific juxtaposition established between the connections of both birth and death in two seemingly unconnected events in two different states. Despite these scenes being well-directed, cutting at similar angles to indicate their similarities, it does instantaneously plant within the viewer all notion as to the film’s twists, and a great deal of suspense is lost.
One night in 2010, one person dies while another is born. The mother of this new child is Taylor Schilling, working hard despite her rather unpolished and cheesy dialog. The child grows to the age of eight, and is played by Jackson Robert Scott, another decent performance that is sometimes hindered by the script. The playful nature between mother and son is never convincing in the words exchanged between the two, and Taylor Schilling’s Sarah Bloom may as well have a big tattoo on her forehead that reads “VICTIM”. Aside from these two and the psychologist portrayed by Arthur Jacobson, you never feel like any actor onscreen truly wants to be there. This is a typical early-year horror film. Just a stepping stone in their careers.
Anyway, Scott’s Miles Blume begins displaying bizarre behavior, in sequences any seasoned horror fan has likely seen before and will likely roll their eyes at. So then we gradually see his problems unfold into not only the supernatural, but hints at the thematic content of rebirth and the way unfinished deeds leave their mark on the world. Think The Sixth Sense, except twenty years later with tired concepts and uninspired presentation. As early Shamaylan proved, there’s a great deal of potential in this subject matter, but The Prodigy goes about one of the safest routes imaginable, all for the stereotypical “horror” ending and the open-ended sequel ideas. The color palette is the typical modern horror setup of dark blue and gray tints. This is a dreadful film, not only in its overarching sense of despair, but in its quality.
There are other clear inspirations here. Child’s Play, The Exorcist, even the more recent Hereditary come to mind. But those films at least have consistent tones and unique presentations. Child’s Play brought an original concept for the slasher film to fruition, one that in its time would have been conceived as extremely difficult to pull off. The Exorcist expanded our ideas of what could be done with child actors in the world of horror. And Hereditary had plenty of clichés, but at least it portrayed them in the best directorial execution and gave us more nuances about real-life horrors, particularly familial stressors and mental illness. The Prodigy, however is subpar and forgettable in all these aspects.