'The Prodigy': Film Review

Not exactly prodigious.
2/8/2019

Nicholas McCarthy’s third horror film stars Taylor Schilling as a distressed mother attempting to protect her young son from pernicious influences.

Karma is a killer in The Prodigy, a woefully inadequate interpretation of the tenets of reincarnation and their impact on one innocent family. Struggling throughout with issues of structure and pacing, Nicholas McCarthy’s horror feature threatens to debase standards for the genre to levels that even undiscriminating thrill-seekers seem likely to reject.

The film’s cardinal sin isn’t so much that it’s unoriginal as that it’s so uninvolving, it almost assures attention deficit will set in early, as audiences begin to wonder about the downside of parenting for well-off couple Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney). Their only child Miles (Jackson Robert Scott), born with an unusually high IQ that sets him apart from most other children, attends third grade at a private school for gifted kids, where he has difficulty making friends, preferring to focus on art projects instead. That isn’t a huge issue for his parents, who are Miles’ most frequent companions, but his antisocial attitude concerns them.

When he begins exhibiting more aberrant behavior, Sarah takes him to psychologist Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore), who provides a startling diagnosis: Miles' mind may be in the grip of a reincarnated entity seeking to take control of his body. Not that his parents actually believe that could be possible, but as Miles becomes increasingly distressed, Sarah agrees to let Jacobson perform hypnosis on him in order to regress his memories. The results are so shocking that the psychologist comes to believe that Miles and his parents may be in mortal danger from the being seeking to absorb the child’s personality.

Originally titled Descendant, the script by horror specialist Jeff Buhler seems like it was tossed off between assignments penning higher-profile projects like the upcoming Pet Sematary remake and another adaptation of The Grudge. Although Buhler introduces the malevolent presence threatening Miles in the opening scenes, there’s never any clear reason why the boy becomes its victim, other than being born at an unlucky time. This karmic transference also lacks any particular justification besides the obvious expediency of putting a child in peril. At the same time, there are hints of supernatural forces at work along the lines of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby or Twin Peaks that aren’t adequately distinguished from the other menacing influences plaguing Miles.

McCarthy, also a horror vet, previously directed his original titles At the Devil’s Door and The Pact, so it’s a bit puzzling to consider what went wrong here, other than perhaps a crisis of overconfidence. McCarthy maintains firm control of a heightened visual style throughout that nonetheless lacks an emphasis on genre conventions, draining the pic of tension and interest.

Dragging Schilling through all this confusion seems like a shame, and it takes her a while to gain her bearings as the film fritters away precious screen time. By the time Miles’ afflictions become acute, Schilling's performance as a mother reaching her wit’s end starts to take on palpable panic, culminating in a desperate decision. Young Scott consistently punches well above his weight, imbuing Miles with both adroitly feigned innocence and unsettling malevolence.

Production companies: Vinson Films, XYZ Films
Distributor: Orion Pictures
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Colm Feore, Peter Mooney, Paul Fauteau, Brittany Alleny
Director: Nicholas McCarthy
Screenwriter: Jeff Buhler
Producer: Tripp Vinson
Executive producers: Jeff Buhler, Daniel Bekerman, Tara Farney
Director of photography: Bridger Nielson
Production designer: Aidan Leroux
Costume designer: Catherine Ashton
Editors: Tom Elkins, Brian Ufberg
Music: Joseph Bishara 

Rated R, 92 minutes