If I’m being perfectly honest, after watching the first extended trailer for The Prodigy, I was ready to write it off as yet another possessed kid movie (I am terrible, I know). But thankfully, writer Jeff Buhler and director Nicholas McCarthy weren’t ready to mine familiar territory with this film, and instead of creating a movie focused on an evil kid that needs to be saved from demonic forces, The Prodigy goes the reincarnation route, and that alone made the film immensely enjoyable (the greatest feeling for me when I am watching movies in this day and age is to be surprised). Beyond that, The Prodigy is a surprisingly dark and disturbing story that taps into not only every parent's worst fears, but also serves as a reminder to all of us that evil can lurk anywhere, and come from the most unexpected of places.
At the start of The Prodigy, expectant parents Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) celebrate the arrival of their bundle of joy, Miles, but almost immediately recognize that their son is rather unique, especially as he exhibits behaviors and cognitive awareness well beyond his years. As Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) continues to grow up, he also begins to lash out in destructive ways. At first, it’s very subtle, like setting booby traps for his babysitter or squashing spiders (it’s hard for me to fault the kid for the latter—death to all spiders!). But the older he gets, the more Miles’ disturbing behavior begins to worry his parents, especially Sarah, who knows something is very wrong with her son, and she is willing to go to great lengths to get some kind of semblance of normalcy back in her family. But once she discovers exactly what has a hold on Miles, Sarah is forced to make some heavy decisions about what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to get her son back once and for all.
As someone who completely digs on movies like Orphan, The Good Son, The Omen (OG version, of course—sorry, Derek!), The Children, or even Wake Wood, The Prodigy scratched a cinematic itch of mine in some very unexpected ways, and that was probably the biggest draw for me. When it comes to horror and its various subgenres, I’m always looking for stories that try and do something a bit different, and The Prodigy achieves just that. Beyond the fact that I was relieved that Buhler’s script doesn’t take the traditional possession route, the reason I enjoyed this story as much as I did is because the narrative wasn’t afraid to go to some truly disconcerting places, and I was not expecting things to get as nasty as they do in The Prodigy (seriously, there is an exchange between the youngster Scott and veteran actor Colm Feore that actually left me muttering to myself, “Holy shit”—it’s so messed up).
The performances in The Prodigy are really great as well, with Schilling acting as the emotional center of the story as her character, Sarah, struggles to figure out just how to deal with her precocious son, who has exhibited a dangerously deadly streak to his behavior. Her desperation to save her son also has Sarah traversing some dark paths in the film as well, and I think her emotional journey here is a compelling one, particularly once the film arrives at its stunning finale. Scott, who most fans will remember as the adorable Georgie from IT (2017), is really damn good in The Prodigy, too, and walks that fine line of a kid you care about and a kid you wouldn’t want to be left alone with rather well. The previously mentioned Feore is a welcome sight in The Prodigy, and I got a big kick out of seeing Brittany Allen (What Keeps You Alive, It Stains the Sands Red) make an appearance in the latter half of the film as well.
Also, I want to take a moment to tip my hat to Buhler for creating characters that felt truly lived in; there’s a great scene where Sarah and John head out for a date night, which culminates in them drinking beers inside their car as they wistfully reminisce about their days together before they became parents, and I just thought it was such a thoughtful moment that added a lot of humanity to these characters.
My only issue with The Prodigy is its conclusion, and I can’t really dive into my thoughts on that here because I’d be giving up some major spoilers. But I will say that where certain characters end up in the end doesn’t make a ton of sense in relation to previous events and conversations, and I do wish that had been taken into consideration when those moments were being created. That being said, it wasn’t enough of a misstep to curtail everything that preceded it, so it’s only a minor quibble that I have. Overall, I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed myself during The Prodigy, and I am so glad that everyone involved really pushed the envelope to give audiences something more than a story we’ve all seen countless times before.
Movie Score: 3.5/5