Review by Xander McCabe
Playing it safe is a great way to make a movie have an appeal that can reach out across the audience and get everybody to feel at least a little something. There are plenty of genres in which the audience expects the expected. In a rom-com, the audience expects the moment of realization and running to the airport to catch the lover before the flight takes off. So when this happens, everyone’s happy. This is where horror variates. The audience is not expecting the same car chase from the action film before but wants to see something new. This is where “The Prodigy” comes up short.
Miles was born a genius. With an intelligence always well above the curve of other kids his age, Miles hasn’t developed socially at quite the same rate. His mother, Sarah, gets concerned when around his 8th birthday, that something may be wrong with her son. After a series of tests and a few more paranormal occurrences, Sarah begins to believe that Miles is possessed. The question from then on is, who, or what, is possessing him, what do they want, and how can Sarah stop them and save her son?
Now, if this doesn’t sound like the freshest concept out there, it’s because it isn’t. When it comes to the creepy-possibly-possessed-kid-with-a-concerned-mom subgenre, we’ve already had titles like “Orphan,” “Sinister,” “Insidious,” “The Omen” and many more that are out there, ready for audiences to get their fix on kids who stand just too still or speak in tongues at night. “The Prodigy” falls into a lot of the same patterns as these films and doesn’t offer anything new up through the first act of the film. Miles behaves in the same ways we’ve seen other children and Sarah spends a lot of time looking concerned.
As we check off the setup and establishment of the character relationships, things do start to take off for the better. Once Miles is a little bit more developed and his possessing counterpart starts coming to light, the audience is treated to a couple of really strong moments. These primarily highlight the redeeming beacon of this film which is Jackson Robert Scott’s performance as both Miles and his counterpart. Scott may seem familiar due to this role as Georgie in 2017’s “IT” but he’s upped his game with charm and duality than actors four times his age who have been acting for longer than he’s been alive can barely touch. And while the movie does have its lulls and some moments that don’t quite land as they should, the viewer can’t help but be excited to see what Miles does next. It’s a dark charisma that Scott brings to the character that really becomes the scale tipper for this film.
The poster for the film asks the viewer “what’s wrong with Miles?” And truly, the only thing that’s wrong, is that he didn’t have a better script to work with. The dialogue in this film is probably the stalest element and is what makes it the most difficult for the audience to sink into. Rather than putting in real individual voices for the characters, or using language that puts a flavor onto the film, the audience is left with very objective writing. Each piece of dialogue works as a bridge to get from A to B and that’s it. It’s functional, simple, and not engaging. Even in peak moments of the film, during major reveals, Sarah or another member of the ensemble will state something more of a fact about what’s going on in the story rather than reacting with something emotional to add to the impact of the moment.
This paralleled with a really dull performance from the ensemble across the board makes the film quickly start to become forgettable. Every other character besides Miles and Sarah work as just functional pieces to move along the plot rather than to create dynamic personalities.
Beyond a couple of good quick scares (and one really well-done hypnosis scene), the film sadly doesn’t hit its stride till the third act. For the sake of this review, it’s hard to go to in specifics without spoiling the film but overall, the film increases in quality. The performances from all of the actors heighten, the stakes become bigger, really tough situations arise that force character growth and a climax goes down that leaves the audience filled with dread. This becomes the first part of the film where Jackson Robert Scott isn’t carrying the whole thing on his own yet, he just gets even better! This kid steals the whole show and delivers a performance that essentially saves this movie.
Once we know the full scope of this story, there are only a few elements that would be worth a rewatch to see if they play differently now that the viewer is in the loop. In the end, all that the audience is left with is what reads like a first draft of a script, a dull ensemble, a few good scares, and a great kid who could have done so much better had he just a little more to work with. There’s a lot of potential in “The Prodigy” but it comes up short.