A bizarre little failure, The Prodigy initially has the makings of a horror success.
Well-made on a technical level — no shaky-cam cheapness here from director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) — the film doles out eerie imagery that wordlessly conveys themes of duplicity and capitalizes on the promise of suspenseful set-ups with multiple creative jump scares.
Despite its worshipping of The Omen and various bad seed predecessors, the screenplay from Jeff Buhler (he of the inventive Midnight Meat Train) nonetheless appears headed toward something new-ish with the mysterious sinister connection between deceased serial killer Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux, Netflix’s Frontier) and the titular smarty, Miles.
Playing the preteen child, Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie from It) makes for an impressive creepy kid, but loses points when called upon to be an average boy — doubly so when he gets whiney and turns on the waterworks.
Though the family dog naturally knows something’s amiss with Miles from the get-go, as the kiddo starts acting out and uttering a foreign language in his sleep, he finally alarms his mother Sarah (Taylor Schilling, Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black) and laughably underwritten father John (Canadian TV actor Peter Mooney) to the point of taking action.
Enter paranormal psychologist Arthur Jacobson (Colm Feore), who apparently inadvertently lays out the one possible solution for liberating Miles, then takes another approach that doesn’t quite go as he’d planned, but also doesn’t prevent him from aiding Sarah in her attempts to save her son.
With it clear that Miles must complete the terrible mission himself, The Prodigy abandons what little logic it has left and confoundedly sends Sarah to do the deed, turning the closing 20-plus minutes from a potentially taut finale to a cruel, frustrating dud. Its setup for a sequel is similarly puzzling and all but undoes the goodwill built up in the film’s first half.
Grade: C-minus. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Orion Pictures)