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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 12:04 am

Surprising Prodigy hits all the right notes

There are very few surprises in Nicholas McCarthy’s The Prodigy, other than the fact that it’s an effective little B-movie shocker that had me giggling with delight over just how much fun it is.   Hitting all of the expected horror film beats – this is really nothing more than a remake of The Omen – the film winds up being a well-made thriller that fans of the genre will be pleasantly surprised by during this fallow period for horror movies.
Talking at six months, figuring out complex math problems at five and being antisocial every step of the way, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) is convinced her son, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott), is a genius. She does all she can to nurture this, researching how to raise gifted children, encouraging him to follow his interests and enrolling him in a special, private school.  But once he turns eight, things start to go very, very wrong.  His mother brushes aside his increasing moodiness and a mysterious “accident” with the babysitter, but once he bashes a peer with a monkey wrench, it’s obvious something’s amiss.

At this point, the investigative portion of the film begins, with a recording of Miles speaking a very rare Hungarian dialect in his sleep providing a big clue as to what’s going on with him, which would have been more of a surprise without the movie’s heavy-handed prologue.  As expected, the parents don’t believe what the behavior specialists and paranormal experts have to tell them, until it’s too late and then…well, it ain’t good.

The film will never be cited as an example of groundbreaking originality; however, it is a well-made exercise in cinematic form and function where horror films are concerned and it succeeds in its purpose – i.e., seriously creeping out the audience.  McCarthy maintains a steady pace, not allowing the movie to get bogged down in minutiae or subplots. If you’re looking for an example of lean narrative filmmaking, look no further.  Also adding to the overall “creep” factor is the cinematography by Bridger Nielson.  The film’s world is one that seems to be perpetually overcast, giving the story a constant sense of gloom, while the atmospheric interiors are helped by the fact that each character must be on a strict energy-saving program, as there is never more than one room lit at a time and that only by a very low-wattage lamp.

Schilling makes a nice transition from Orange is the New Black to the big screen, impressing with a performance that runs the gamut from glee to terror.  She becomes more and more ragged as the movie progresses, her sunny disposition gradually devolving into that of weary dread.  Schilling’s efforts pay off, as we can’t help but sympathize with this haggard mom.  Equally valuable is Scott, who’s able to bring to life Miles’ duality in a genuinely unnerving manner.  The young actor shifts moods quickly throughout, effectively underscoring the threat this creature represents.

I can’t say that the ending was unexpected, but the circumstances leading up to it were.  The act of final desperation Sarah engages in is questionable but can be justified by the lengths a mother will go to in order to save her child. And while I anticipated the film’s final moment, I didn’t mind.  By that time, I had been thoroughly entertained by this well-executed sleeper that fans of the horror genre should embrace and champion.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.  

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