Creepy kids are an old, reliable trope that rarely lets horror movies down – and rightly so. Those tiny humans can be straight unsettling when they want to be. The Prodigy might seem like just another creepy kid movie, but its new take on possession and its willingness to dive into the deep end of darkness makes it stand a little higher than the rest.
The very first thing you see in The Prodigy is a woman escaping a tightly locked cabin. She busts her hand through the dilapidated door panel, opens the lock, and runs like hell. This cabin is so remote that she must run for what seems like eternity until she comes across a road and is able to flag down a car for help. She then gets police back to the cabin to arrest the man that did this to her. The man is no dummy, and he anticipated this attempt at punitive justice. He essentially commits suicide by exploiting the trigger happy officers, and dies naked at their feet.
Meanwhile, in nearby Pennsylvania, Sarah and John (Taylor Schilling and Peter Mooney) are in the midst of delivering their first child. Baby Miles arrives with little drama, and the happy new familial unit goes about watching him grow up.
Through a series of glimpses into Miles’s rearing, we see that he’s not like other kids. He’s cognitively operating at genius levels, but socially he cannot relate to other children his age. He’s an odd kid, for sure, but when he starts acting strange and muttering in Hungarian while he sleeps, Sarah decides to seek out specialists.
Schilling does a perfectly fine job of playing the mother who will do anything for her son, but still can’t believe what she actually has to do. She manages to convey a good balance of dedication and disbelief in her portrayal, which largely saves The Prodigy from being a campy throwback film. However, Jackson Robert Scott as the 8-year-old Miles steals the show. This role asks a lot of a young actor, and his ability to subtly switch modes, and to smile both sweetly and menacingly in a single take, is essential for The Prodigy to succeed.
And succeed it does! While by no means a perfect film (nor one that will make you lose sleep from fear), The Prodigy is a solid little horror flick. Its jump scares are used effectively and sparsely, and tend to enhance the tension rather than detract from it. Once it gets chugging into the meaty bits of Miles’s real issues, some good surprises pop up, and some universal forces are addressed. Best of all, The Prodigy doesn’t shy away from getting dark, and nearly nihilistic, in the end. This is not the kind of movie that’s concerned about you feeling warm and fuzzy when you leave the theater.
The Prodigy is the kind of mid-budget horror film that’s often quickly forgotten after release, but it’s fun and dark enough to be worth its running time.