The Prodigy isn’t smart enough for its own good

The Prodigy isn’t smart enough for its own good
The modern definition of “prodigy” generally refers to a child gifted with some artistic ability or mental talent. So I wasn’t far into this creepy yet singularly unsurprising horror movie before wondering whether The Possession wouldn’t have been a better title than The Prodigy.

Colm Feore’s character set me straight there. Possession is when the body is controlled by a non-human entity, he tells Sarah (Taylor Schilling), as though nervous new parents get this kind of thing wrong every day. Her son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) has another problem, one spelled out in the opening minutes of the film for anyone with two eyes and a brain. Or one eye and half a brain.

So let’s stick with The Prodigy, even though the title has been used for more than half a dozen dramas and thrillers over the past 20 years. As Miles grows from infanthood to age eight, several things become apparent. He has heterochromia iridis, or eyes of different colours, like David Bowie. He’s smart, like Mozart. And he’s evil, like Noel Gallagher. (What? Ask Liam. He’ll back me up.)

Miles is cruel to animals, bad to babysitters and vicious to classmates. He mutters in his sleep in a language that sounds like Klingon, and hums an annoying earworm tune the rest of the time. Paula Boudreau as a well-meaning psychiatrist doesn’t know what to make of him. Her colleague (Feore) knows what’s up but is too afraid to say anything.

Schilling and Peter Mooney don’t have much to do as Miles’s parents. The screenplay by Jeff Buhler – his upcoming work is heavy on remakes, including Pet Sematary, Grudge and Jacob’s Ladder – has the two of them initially impressed by the kid’s smarts, then unnerved, and finally full-on horrified. Audiences are meant to go through a similar spectrum of emotions, but at a recent press screening there were more giggles than gasps at the supposedly scary moments.

It doesn’t help that director Nicholas McCarthy can’t find any original techniques to tell this boilerplate evil-child story. It’s all slow zooms and pans, obsessive scratchy drawings, jump-scare stings, and the reliable fact that just about anything sounds creepy when whispered by an eight-year-old child.

Thus we have a parent’s-worst-nightmare movie that gradually reveals itself to be a viewers worst nightmare instead. There’s a word for that, but it’s not Prodigy.

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