Synopsis – A mother concerned about her young son’s disturbing behavior thinks something supernatural may be affecting him.
My Take – Horror films based on creepy kids have been around for a long time. Films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976), have used long mined chills to ask arguably unanswerable questions about what if a child was just pure evil and at what point do parents have to make the ultimate choice. As possession films seem to be running in to the ground recently, in this latest film, director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, At the Devil’s Door) is backing to asking a simple question – what’s wrong with Miles?
Unfortunately, despite what you might expect, the film isn’t scary, good or fun and that made for an underwhelming experience. While it’s reasonably paced, the film is almost wholly devoid of real scares, instead relying on the assumption that a kid doing violent adult things is enough to sustain a 92-minute film. It’s neither far over the top enough to fully entertain, nor compelling enough to frighten as a horror flick. For a film that deals with the possession of a young boy, it’s ironic that the film feels like a hollow shell once housed by far better horror films.
The film appears to be doubling down on ‘Child’s Play’ nostalgia given they’re releasing the upcoming 2019 reboot and its quite surprising on how much the film borrows a substantial amount from the original Chucky outing, only this around it is just bland and boring.
Every time the film seems to be shoring up momentum, it betrays its disappointing insistence on begging the audience to keep wondering what’s wrong with Miles, even as the very first scene of the film more or less declares it outright. Because of this, there’s no mystery in the back half of the film where mystery should be, no sense that anything happening to the leads is going to surprise. The film may have an interesting concept and is unintentionally entertaining, but its poor screenplay, recycled tropes, and fast pace makes this supernatural horror feel much undeveloped.
The story follows Sarah (Taylor Schilling), who on a fateful 2010 night in Pennsylvania informs her husband John (Peter Mooney) that she is going into an early labor, and the two begin rushing to the hospital. Unknown to them, in rural Ohio, at the same time Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux), a notorious serial killer known for abducting, dismembering, and eventually killing his young female victims, is being corned by a tactical police team.
And the moment Sarah gives birth to a healthy baby boy and names him Miles, Scarka is shot dead in the raid. As Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) begins to grow older, the parents realize that their son is special. He is very advanced, and does things like talk and solve problems at a far accelerated pace than his peers.
As he gets older, the two do what any good parent would; they explore their son’s gifts. But as soon as he turns eight years old, his intelligence begins to manifest itself in more unsettling forms, from fits of violence to Miles speaking in strange languages in his bedroom, insistent that a presence has been passing in and out of his body. Sarah is forced to look for the cause, which leads her to choose between the son she gave birth to and the belief that something supernatural has taken control of him.
The plot unfolds in classic horror style with Sarah trying to uncover the mystery behind her son’s strange behavior. There’s nowhere for this story to go because we, the audience, see the answer to the mystery in the opening scene. We already know what’s wrong with Miles. We’ve always known what’s wrong with Miles. The problem with the script is that the film is far too predictable. There wasn’t much of a sense of surprise during the film because all the familiar horror tropes were heir apparent.
While watching the film if there’s something that you think is going to happen the film never tries to swerve or be original and create something that hasn’t been seen in a dozen other horror films. If there is anything I truly did like about the film was how elaborately the film opens. It sets up the story in a developed fashion. All that is needed to know is that a random murderous psychopath gets reincarnated into a newborn baby.
I love how that scene plays out and how it opens the film, but outside of its opening, every scene is underwritten and lacks a natural progression. Its then you realize that the film told us everything too much too early, and misses out on important details. Every narrative beat hits way too fast. There’s no explanation given for why Miles or why this family, so it feels more like a parade of mild misery.
I would’ve preferred a bit more length for scenes to be more developed to enhance the story, or at least a better look at the script to enrich the dialogue. So many lines said by the characters are bland and generic, even by horror film standards. It seemed like the film wants to capture the grief-stricken gravitas of Hereditary, but it isn’t willing to commit to the acts of brutality it needs to earn that intensity.
Conversations end without reaching their climax, and moments of violence are shied away from. The film needed those moments to underscore the danger Miles and his family are in, but without them, the stakes seem underwhelming. It felt like director Nicholas McCarthy understood what themes the film was touching upon, but just didn’t understand how to bring them to a satisfying conclusion. Early on, Miles asks for paprika to spice up his chicken dinner, which is the set-up for possibly the worst thematic follow-through I’ve ever seen in a film.
Even the explanation of why and how this young boy is suffering from these dark desires is laughable and over-explained through a therapist named Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore) who is merely walking exposition. The film certainly posed an interesting interpretation of the supernatural and had the potential to comment on a certain belief but unfortunately, that promise is wasted in the film’s clunky execution.
Now, while I was entertained for all the wrong reasons, the story halts at a point to go down one of two paths for its third act: One set on the morality of Sarah having to destroy her creation and the other is an unnecessarily convoluted journey based on a mystery that shouldn’t have even been thought of. From the third act to the conclusion, every decision Sarah makes is questionably dumb and where the story leads to is even dumber. The intentions were in the right place but the execution is middling to a point that the ending is underwhelming and never feels quite earned.
Performance-wise, Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) gives a great performance as Miles’ mom Sarah, who is going through an internal conflict relating to this evil possessing her child. Jackson Robert Scott (It) isn’t scary by any means, yet manages an alright performance. As a child actor whose role solely lies on him, he does a decent job. The remaining cast gets almost no development.
While Colm Feore‘s only job was to provide exposition, Peter Mooney despite having an important role does not have much to do. On the whole, ‘The Prodigy’ is a mediocre horror film led down by an underwritten story and its destitute execution.
Directed – Nicholas McCarthy
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes