Kids are scary. Fact. In their young and tentative years, those little devils get try to get away with murder, wreaking havoc on their homes and on their parents lives’, drawing on walls, leaving food everywhere and causing general chaos to those around them. Who’d be a parent?! Well, most, actually, and generally such terror isn’t quite so bad in the long run, but one of cinema’s favourite sub-genre tropes is scary kids: possessed, demonic, staring way too much, we have seen many “cherubs” as Mrs. Doubtfire would say, turn to the dark side and make for an uncomfortable viewing experience.
The Prodigy is the latest in a ever-expanding list of films that explore the dark thoughts and terror of knowing that your child may be the devil incarnate, that he or she is the personification of evil because of their penchant for wanton destruction – you know, with Lego and Grand Theft Auto, perhaps. In this suitably jumpy little horror, the child in question is Miles (Jackson Robert Scott), a somewhat gifted boy who has always had bit of a edge to him ever since he was little. Believing he is perhaps autistic or something far worse, his parents Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) begin to take Miles to a psychologist and soon discover a dark, vicious past of a serial killer that may be linked to their son’s trauma.
All sounds standard stuff, right? Well, yes, it does pretty much stick to the letter for its undercurrents of paranoia, bloodlust and the exasperated fears that come with 21st century parenting where everything around them feels like danger, The Prodigy is suitably efficient and effective in drawing terror from its characters and presenting it in a taut and gripping way. Indeed, it’s thanks to the brilliant turn from Scott that keeps everything neatly woven instead of bursting at the seams, with a devilish performance that’s laced with intrigue and bloody intent.
Director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) and screenwriter Jeff Buhler have taken their cues from Richard Donner’s 1976 classic The Omen here, even down to the seductive red font that appears at the beginning of the film, and keep proceedings lean and mean. Indeed, there’s an assurance here and as such, all the scares and twists feel earned rather than cheap ones done for jumps and nothing else and for that we should be glad that this one exists.
While there has been a glut of these evil-child-centric films in recent months – most notably, the excellent Irish horror The Hole In The Ground and the upcoming Pet Sematary set to take us in a different direction – it’s becoming harder and harder to do these movies with any degree of originality. Yet, The Prodigy manages to discover a few new avenues to explore and while the main crux of its narrative is familiar and obvious, it finds some interesting ways to subvert and invert this well trodden story.
Scott J.Davies | [rating=3]
Horror, Thriller | USA, 2019 | 15| 15th March 2019 (UK) | Vertigo Releasing | Dir.Nicholas McCarthy | Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Peter Mooney, Colm Feore, Brittany Allen