Thursday, February 14, 2019

Movie Review: The Prodigy

The Prodigy ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Nicholas McCarthy.
Written by: Jeff Buhler.
Starring: Taylor Schilling (Sarah), Peter Mooney (John), Brittany Allen (Margaret St. James), Jackson Robert Scott (Miles), Colm Feore (Arthur Jacobson), Olunike Adeliyi (Rebecca), Elisa Moolecherry (Zoe), Paul Fauteux (Edward Scarka), Paula Boudreau (Dr. Elaine Strasser).
There is nothing particularly wrong with The Prodigy – except for the fact that is basically a horror movie with zero ambition to be anything other than a competent example of the evil child genre. The film basically does everything that every evil kid movie since The Omen has done – and with little in the way of inspiration or originality. Sure, everything about the movie is done well – particularly if you enjoy jump scares – but the whole movie has a by-the-numbers feeling to it. You keep waiting for it to do something a least somewhat original – to give you an idea as to why everyone involved wanted to make the film. But it just never arrives. It doesn’t overstay its welcome – it moves quickly for 90 minutes and gets out - but it’s a shrug of a movie. I doubt anyone could possibly have anything nicer to say about the film other than “it’s fine”.
The film opens cutting back and forth between Ohio and Pennsylvania on the same day. In Ohio, a woman escapes the captivity of a serial killer – Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux) – who’s got a thing for hands. The police show up to his isolated house, guns drawn, and Scarka doesn’t live too long after that. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) welcome their only child – Miles (who will be played as an 8-year-old for most of the movie by Jackson Robert Scott). You can tell what’s going to happen here right? I mean, there is a reason for all this cross cutting.
The movie takes a while to catch up to where the audience is after the first scene. Yes, there does seem to be something wrong with Miles – even as a baby. He is extremely advanced in some ways, and delayed in others. Perhaps he is somewhere on the spectrum, but he’s also a genius – maybe. But no one can quite put their finger on what is wrong with Miles – but when he beats another student with a wrench, torments a baby sitter, the family dog goes missing, and he starts speaking in a rare Hungarian dialect in his sleep, they know something is up. So of course a reincarnation expert (Colm Feore) is brought in to explain what is happening – and we know he’s right because of that opening scene, but Sarah refuses to believe for about 20 minutes of runtime, because otherwise you don’t have much a story.
Everything about The Prodigy is competently done. Director Nicholas McCarthy knows how to direct a scare sequence, and create good jump scares, and he does a good job at that – even if you can tell he’s cribbing from other places. Taylor Schilling is fine as Sarah – the caring mother who doesn’t want to believe her son could be evil. Young Jackson Robert Scott has a good creepy stare – and uses it effectively – and is also good at sounding so innocent that you know he must be a monster. I do kind of wish they had done something – anything really – with the John character – who is such a non-entity in the film you may as well have made Sarah a single mother.
The film basically does precisely what you think it’s going to do from the get go. It does it all well enough that you wish the filmmakers had taken a chance – any chance – to try and bring something different to the mix here. True, no one involved is a master filmmaker or anything – so it’s not like listening to Glenn Gould (to bring up a better Colm Feore movie) play chopsticks. But still, listening to the local piano player at the bar play chopsticks isn’t that impressive either.

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