The Prodigy: Brutally mean-spirited addition to the haunted child genre


The Prodigy is a mediocre horror film with a gleefully cruel streak that makes it more more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Evil children are a common thread in many horror movies. Popularized by the 1956 film, The Bad Seed, killer kids have become a mainstay of the genre. The sullied innocence of a murderous child, particularly one with cherubic features, unsettles everything we know about human nature. This legacy is what Orion Pictures latest film, The Prodigy, must contend with as it attempts to literally reconcile the virtue of a child with that of a killer.

If I were to compare The Prodigy to one of the many similarly themed films that came before it, I would choose the 2009 film, Orphan. Both films have a rotten core, and I don’t mean that unfavorably. Like Orphan, The Prodigy’s strength lies within its vicious streak.

Warning: The following article may contain mild spoilers.

Where a different film might cut away from the violence exhibited by a child, The Prodigy revels in these moments. It allows the audience to experience the sickness and dread that comes with watching a sweet-looking boy like Miles partake in heinous acts and expel profane vitriol to the adults around him. The scene that sticks out the most occurs between Miles and his therapist. Let’s just say, hearing a child say certain words can chill you to the bone in ways adults cannot even begin to mirror.

A few well-crafted scares coupled with The Prodigy’s willingness to be brutal when it needs to be made it markedly better than the usual mid-winter horror fare but unfortunately outside of its gleeful cruelty, the film is decidedly mediocre.

Photo Credit: Rafy/Orion Pictures – Copyright MGM

The acting in the film is serviceable, with Taylor Schilling and Jackson Robert Scott the clear stand-outs. But they can only do so much with a bland script and one-dimensional characters supporting them. Miles has the most interesting arc but it is an arc we’ve seen before. Think Child’s Play (a film that is being remade by the same production company behind The Prodigy, Orion Pictures) but instead of the reincarnated soul inhabiting a doll, it takes a child as its host.

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Awash in cool tones and pastels, the cinematography and camera-work create a glum and relentlessly depressing atmosphere. In some of the most serious moments, the film will offer a sudden instance of black humor, creating a sense of whiplash. Miles is often the culprit.

One moment he’s suffering in his sleep and the next he’s whispering “go f**k yourself” to his mother. It’s jarring. There are several times this occurs and I thought these moments of levity created an engaging and appreciated sense of dark humor but the issue is being unsure of whether or not those moments were intentional or accidental. If accidental, they were further evidence of a weak script, if intentional, then I wish the filmmakers would have embraced them and distributed more of them throughout.

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The final conflict and resounding ending are as bleak as the rest of the film. It is paint-by-number and you will know what direction Sarah must go in to try and save her son early on in the film. The final act of violence would have been more shocking in a different movie but falls into place easily in this one. I didn’t think it was good or bad necessarily, it made sense for the story being told. Although I did find the epilogue that followed to be redundant.

Photo credit: Rafy / Orion Pictures – Copyright MGM

I walked into The Prodigy without any idea of what the film was about beyond what I gleaned from the poster and title alone. I didn’t watch any clips or trailers beforehand. Yet, even though I watched it with no expectations, I did not find myself surprised by much beyond the mean-spirited nature, and that alone was what made the film better than I anticipated.

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Despite being mostly forgettable, I still don’t regret spending an hour and a half with Miles, which is more than I can say for many horror films that release in the expected January-February box office slump. [66/100 – C+]

The Prodigy is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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