Nicholas McCarthy’s film about a suburban mom who believes her genius kid’s violent tendencies are supernatural plays things too straight
THE PRODIGY (Nicholas McCarthy). 91 minutes. Opens Friday (February 8). See listing. Rating: NN
The Prodigy isn’t awful or anything it’s kind of dumb, I guess, but it’s well-acted and delivers a couple of unnerving moments in its first half. It’s just not original enough to distinguish itself from all the other bad-seed movies we’ve seen over the years – your Exorcists, your Omens, your Good Sons. And The Bad Seed, too, I suppose.
The Prodigy tries and fails to breathe new life into that specific horror sub-genre, with Taylor Schilling as Sarah, a comfortable suburban mom who gradually comes to believe her genius boy’s emotional distance and violent tendencies are supernatural in origin.
It’s an idea that’s not without potential, especially in this age of constant medical disinformation. How often do parents boast about treating their kids’ behavioural issues without resorting to drugs? Would exploring a paranormal option be any different, if it worked? And what wouldn’t a mother do to save her child?
Schilling is solid as the increasingly despairing Sarah, and young Jackson Robert Scott – who played the doomed Georgie Denbrough in It – is very impressive at slipping back and forth between the cherubic and seething modes of the troubled Miles.
But writer Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train) and director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) make two un-fixable mistakes: they give the game away too soon, putting the audience several steps ahead of the characters, and they play the whole thing straight, never finding a way to deal with the premise’s inherent absurdity. Poor Colm Feore turns up as a specialist, delivering two laboured info-dumps and squirming through a therapy scene that could have been – and begs to be – staged as comedy.
If you’ve never seen one of these movies before, The Prodigy might deliver a shudder or two. But maybe start with George Ratliff’s sublime 2007 creeper, Joshua.