Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Stories about children possessed by some kind of evil entity are pretty much my least favorite horror movie subgenre. It is not that they are always bad. Last year’s Hereditary, which certainly contained elements of this well-worn concept, was brilliant. The problem is it takes a very special touch to make that story feel new or even a little bit different. The latest possessed child thriller, The Prodigy, does not find a way to add anything fresh to this topic. It is about as by-the-book as I can think of for this particular subgenre. It is boring and predictable, with dull jump scares and dumb, painfully underdeveloped, characters. It is difficult to imagine even die-hard horror buffs getting excited for this one.
Sarah and John are blessed with baby Miles. Almost immediately, this kid seems wise beyond his years. He is speaking before he is two and being called a genius at the age of five. The main plot picks up when he is eight. He is still very advanced intellectually, but struggles mightily to connect with other children. Then, he begins exhibiting strange behavior like muttering an obscure Hungarian dialect in his sleep or brutally attacking a classmate. It soon becomes apparent something odd is happening to Miles.
Well, it is apparent to the audience in the opening minutes exactly what is going on because The Prodigy (87 minutes without the end credits) spells it out with super obvious editing. I will not go into specifics just in case you decide to see this, but that early reveal sucks the only suspense there is out of the story. Though it does feature the best moment in the movie: a clever cut from one shot to another that visually parallels it. From there it is the usual: people walking down dark staircases, unnecessary close-ups so we cannot see that something terrible is going to happen and ominous shots of the creepy child.
The characters are so devoid of life that I was unable to care about any of them. They are all types. Sarah is the protective Mom. John is the father with a troubled past. Then there is the weird doctor with supernatural beliefs who thinks he can help them. As for Miles, there is nothing to him, as a victim or a villain. His behavior changes at the whim of the screenplay. Even if you could somehow take the narrative seriously, his actions do not have a lot of logic to them. He is not a fleshed out character. He is an outline that never got filled in.
The Prodigy is a bad movie. It is an unoriginal idea stuffed into a poorly devised story with lame twists and no excitement. It is not actively bad, like last month’s Replicas. It has been competently made, just without energy or creativity. Horror movies are generally cheap to make and have a built-in audience. There are quite a few intriguing entries scheduled for later this year. Do yourself a favor; skip this and wait for one of those instead.
1 out of 5
Taylor Schilling as Sarah
Jackson Robert Scott as Miles
Peter Mooney as John
Colm Feore as Arthur Jacobson
Paul Boudreau as Dr. Elaine Strasser
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Written by Jeff Buhler