Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John Blume (Peter Mooney) are thrilled when their young son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) starts to show signs of rapid development and extreme intelligence. Their family bliss soon turns into a living nightmare when Miles’ behavior becomes increasingly erratic and violent by his eighth birthday. After seeking help from two experts, Sarah is horrified to learn that her beloved prodigy may be under the grip of a dark and supernatural force.
Thousands of horror films adore using the whole “creepy kid” gimmick and it seemingly works out fine for most filmmakers. There are plenty of films out there that utilize this tactic that are highly successful and acclaimed, such as 1984’s Children of the Corn or the 1976 film The Omen.
It seems like there is just something off-putting about a young child showing signs of evil or being possessed by the supernatural that mainstream audiences love. Yes, they can be creepy at times, but let’s be real – this technique feels quite dated and it almost seems like films that do this have no originality in them. But not The Prodigy.
The Prodigy is by no means a perfect movie. Not even close. But it is a skillfully made, diverting, and often chilling picture that has a lot to say and takes many bleak twists and turns. Nicholas McCarthy directs this film with a ton of skill and the direction that it takes overall was quite unexpected for me.
Jackson Robert Scott of It fame portrays the lead child in the film, Miles, and does, for the most part, a terrific job. I can only imagine how difficult a role like this would be for a child, yet Scott does his best and is genuinely bone-chilling in some sequences. There were a few times where he actually made me feel uncomfortable and that is saying something. Yes, in a couple of scenes his acting felt a tad bit wooden but it is mostly great stuff and I hope to see him in more movies down the road.
Something about bothered me about The Prodigy (in a bad way) was how it fell back on jump scares relatively often. Sometimes we will have an extremely well done scene with truly gripping tension involved, then suddenly we hear a loud sound effect accompanied with a strange image. Jump scares have been used in horror films seemingly forever now, and it has never worked for me. Whenever I see a film rely on them, instead of getting scared, it honestly makes me shake my head. So many moments in many horror pictures could be so much better if they simply took jump scares out of them.
That is not to say that The Prodigy is completely devoid of chilling imagery or creepy scenes. There are plenty of moments that actually gave me the creeps, particularly one sequence early on that involved Miles.
Now, me personally, I love a surprising horror movie ending. My favorite film of all time is Hereditary, and its ending took me off guard completely. But here, it just does not work at all. The film builds to a truly gripping finale that would have been really well done if the screenwriters had committed to it, but they don’t unfortunately. They do a complete turn around and do an ending that, while definitely bleak and grim, ends up being maddening to those who were invested throughout the whole story.
The Prodigy is a delightfully creepy, well-directed and remarkably acted film even if it suffers from some script issues.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing and bloody images, a sexual reference and brief graphic nudity
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Colm Feore, Peter Mooney
Directed by: Nicholas McCarthy
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Running Time: 92 minutes