Evil is a choice… and there is always a price.
In 2010, a young woman (Brittany Allen) is nearly struck crossing a Ohio road at night, having just escaped from her kidnapper. As the police are notified and close in to apprehend the assailant (Paul Fauteux), first-time mom Sarah (Taylor Schilling) is on her way to the hospital in Pennsylvania to give birth. Within minutes of the assailant being killed at his home, the child is born… bearing a similar physical characteristic. By the time Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) reaches eight years old, his intelligence is only surpassed by his social disconnection, prompting a visit to a specialist (Colm Feore) who determines there could be a metaphysical explanation for Miles’ behavior… and time is running out.
There have been a number of evil child entities in theaters over the years, from the The Omen to The Orphan, adult darkness wearing the face of innocent youth… sometimes literally. The idea of grownups dismissing all warning signs out of love, hope, or pure ignorance is a recurring theme, but rarely do you see all of them addressed in the same story. From writer Jeff Buhler — The Midnight Meat Train, Jacob’s Ladder, and the upcoming re-imagining of Pet Sematary — and director Nicholas McCarthy, is this first-of-a-franchise thriller a worthy spine-tingler or dead-on-arrival?
The Prodigy suggests more than it shows, and the possibilities are fascinating. While telling a complete story, it’s not just open to a sequel but has practically pre-written it. The standard tropes are here along with more than few surprises and ingenious practical effects using little more than lighting and camera angles. The worst thing that can be said about the script are the things that aren’t done — adults failing to anticipate things viewers see as obvious, for example — but sometimes these are editing room compromises for what didn’t quite work when filmed. With genuine moments of visceral horror and even actual viscera, this “who’s-doing-it” thriller pokes at the brains of viewers while stabbing at their eyeballs.
While most of the cast is above-board as actors, Jackson Robert Scott — whom audiences already met as Georgie in the 2017 reboot of Stephen King’s It — stands out, especially with some of the adult-themed dialogue given to him. Of interest is how that performance was obtained since Scott reportedly didn’t speak the words that were later dubbed in by his “alternate side.” Similarly to “Bad Lip-Read” videos, the boy may have been given dialogue to create the mouth movements to fit what the actual script had written, but this also could have been done using CG facial mapping similar to Captain America and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an effect also used elsewhere in this film.
Even with a satisfying conclusion and a teasing denouement, there are still a few very smart characters doing not-so-smart things. That stretch in logic isn’t a deal-breaker, however, and the possibilities suggested for the inevitable sequel are something to look forward to. If this is the kind of film studios drop into early February, here’s hoping the upcoming spooky thriller stuff coming out in the next month or two knocks our socks off.
The Prodigy is rated R for violence, disturbing and bloody images, a sexual reference, brief graphic nudity that is not what anyone was hoping to see.
Three skull recommendation out of four