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The Prodigy (Movie Review)

The Prodigy (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: When a psychopathic killer is murdered at the very second Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is born, his evil soul is reincarnated in the form of a precocious eight year old boy.

REVIEW: For all my NYC hip-hop heads, straight up, THE PRODIGY’s an old dirty bastard! A bastardized hybrid of THE GOOD SON and ORPHAN that is, except by way of nasty and nihilistic R-rated reincarnation. Indeed, Nicholas McCarthy’s intrepid new outing about a re-embodied serial killer subsuming the body of a young boy and terrorizing his mother and father, is at once way too serious for its own good, far too outrageous in its premise, and yet, somehow still manages to push the creepy-kid subgenre of horror flick into daring new territory, the unwavering gallantry of which is most appreciated, even if the overly-austere and mirthless tone makes for a dour and gruelingly intense time at the movies. That is, the undercurrent of mordant humor found in those PG-13 predecessors listed above is completely devoid in THE PRODIGY, which smarts a tad, but is instead substituted for stunningly explicit acts of physical and verbal cruelty those others couldn’t get away with. The net-net cancel-out effect adds up to an odd farrago of a silly premise matched with too gravid a tenor, punctuated by well mounted bouts of tension and flagrantly unsuitable child imperilment. For fans looking to have a good time at the movies, THE PRODIGY is not for you. For masochistic horror heads who need to properly self-flagellate, this might be your whip!

The flick open with a mystery spoiling, pre-title card crosscut between the premature birth of Miles and the unceremonious death of a totally unrelated serial killer. A handless woman escapes the clutch of the killer in Ohio. When the police arrive to shoot the sick psychopath dead, Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) are awaiting the birth of their baby boy, Miles, in Pennsylvania. We’re to make the leap that, with no other underlying factor, these two souls are commingled at the precise time one dies and the other is born. Okay. Miles shows signs of high intelligence as a baby, can speak by two, and is placed in schools for the most gifted. By the time he’s eight, the creepy heterochromatic-eyed runt is beginning to show signs of violent psychopathy. One of the effective tricks McCarthy and screenwriter Jeff Buhler uses here to properly crank out commensurate amounts of tension as the film unspools, is to slowly ratchet up Miles’ violent behavior. At first, he crushes a spider in his hand. Next, he mercilessly bashes a classmate with a pipe-wrench. The evil escalation continues in proper doses, allowing for a malevolent build-up to boil over as the steam runs out.

When Miles spastically utters Hungarian vulgarities in bed one night, Sarah records it and has it examined by a doctor. Dr. Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore) steps in to conduct a de facto exorcism, using scientific hypnosis rather than religious conjuration, and Miles gives a cunningly foul retort that betrays just how evil and manipulatively he truly is. Still, Jacobs is able to elicit the serial killer’s name who inhabits, a man named Scarka (Paul Fauteux), a sadistic madman who collects severed hands. Not to give away much more, but Sarah and Jacobs deduce exactly what it is Scarka has reincarnated for, and decide to carry out his homicidal task in order to rid the invading spirit from Miles’ body. What transpires from there is at times predictable, even in terms of dialogue in certain spots, but McCarthy no doubt pushes the limits of what we’ve seen from a creepy kid movie. Not just in the verbal berating, but the stark graphic carnage exacted at the hand of Miles’ overtaken hand. There’s an admirable temerity about how deep McCarthy is willing to till this particularly taboo territory, even when it reaches nauseating points at times. By using the reincarnation angle, itself an underused one, McCarthy is able to show Miles do things we simply would not and could not accept. I honestly wish he’d gone even a bit further with the impropriety, but understand there’s already a mighty tiring tax watching just how serious they all take the material as is. For as silly as it all sounds, THE PRODIGY takes its self very seriously.

Perhaps too seriously. There’s rarely a time for the audience to relent, relax and crack a smile, which is sure to irk many looking to have a fun night out at the cinema. But not all horror films need be enjoyable, in fact, their primary purpose, lest we forget, is to scare people, or at the very least make them feel uncomfortable. In this most basic of curricula, THE PRODIGY excels less in moments of quick jump-scare fright tactics, although a couple are pretty effective, and plays far more convincingly in the constant suspense it tautly ratchets throughout. The scene that terrified so many in at the end of the theatrical trailer, I can report, lives up to its expectation. As for the performances, they’re on par with the overall grade of the film itself, which is slightly above average for a movie of its ilk. Much of the movie rides on the turn of young Robert Scott, and he’s adequate enough in the role to make it feel more or less believable. I guess my biggest whinge about the film, even more so than the deeply dour and nihilistic ending, is just how overly-serious the film takes itself, especially given the sheer lunacy of the semi-spoiled plot to begin with. Still, THE PRODIGY paints the creepy-kid template in a much darker and profane light, which, for all its faults, is most commendable.

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