The world will never run out of movies about creepy kids. For some reason or another, we are obsessed with watching parents being tormented by their own terrifying offspring. The latest entry into this curious subgenre, The Prodigy, is almost as forgettable as its title would suggest. Offering little in the way of imagination or even passing amusement, this derivative spookfest is destined to be lost to the cruel hands of time.
As our story begins, we jump back and forth between Sarah (Taylor Schilling) going into labor with her first child and a deranged Hungarian serial killer (Paul Fauteux) being taken out by the cops, as the film tips its hand far too early. You see, in what should have been a slightly disappointing third act reveal but is in actuality a lazy exposition dump, the boy (Jackson Robert Scott) has unwittingly become a vessel for the brutal killer’s reincarnated soul. What follows unfolds as if Child’s Play had consolidated Andy and Chucky into a single character, and then played the whole thing completely stone-faced.
The Prodigy commits the cardinal sin of horror movies: it isn’t scary. Or, rather, it is far too timid to allow itself to be scary. Jeff Buhler’s copy-and-paste script – along with Nicholas McCarthy’s dull, lifeless direction – never catches us off guard. It never defies expectations. As far as the film is concerned, a child’s eerie expression is enough to create and maintain genuine suspense. Soon, we’re reduced to a middle aged man’s eerie expression superimposed on a child’s face, which is precisely as laugh-inducing as it sounds like it might be.
To make matters worse, the film makes the indefensible mistake of taking itself seriously and expecting the audience to have the courtesy of returning the favor. But it’s a little difficult to jump onboard when everything is spelled out for us from scene one. There’s hardly a sequence that isn’t obnoxiously on the nose. Whether it’s a newfound taste for paprika, muttering in a near forgotten dialect, or humming an old Hungarian folk tune, The Prodigy couldn’t be more clear about its intentions for Miles. At one point quite early on, he even washes off half of his skeleton face paint to reveal the duality at play within him. Do you get it? It’s only Sarah who hasn’t yet put the pieces together, and watching her stumble with the painfully obvious doesn’t make for the chilling mystery McCarthy believes it to be.
The Prodigy never seems to work, even on its own terms. But that’s difficult to say, namely because it’s nearly impossible to pin down for certain what those terms are. It’s too commonplace to be spooky; it’s too self-serious to be fun. The result is a series of loosely connected horror buzzwords that can’t figure out how to function on their own, much less in agreement with one another. You don’t have to be a horror movie connoisseur to recognize how thin and repetitive this cheap knockoff can’t help being.