The biggest scare in The Prodigy is blatantly stolen from Mario Bava’s 1977 film Shock, and no one’s even mad. No one’s likely to notice, either. Most hardcore horror geeks will probably skip any screenings, since there’s no reason to go see a major studio production about yet another killer kid. But director Nicholas McCarthy and screenwriter Jeff Buhler each have some solid horror sleepers behind them, and The Prodigy is an impressively subdued R-rated thriller that still tears through sharp variations on a horror trope.
That includes skipping any mystery over what’s going on with creepy young kid Miles, played by Jackson Robert Scott in an effectively disturbing turn. The script quickly establishes that he’s the reincarnation of a serial killer whose final victim escaped and ran to the cops – who then gun down psycho Edward Scarka while raiding his torture chamber out in the country. Scarka doesn’t live near a toy store that stocks Good Guys dolls, so his spirit has to float over to the next state and move into newborn Miles.
The Prodigy then doesn’t waste any time getting five-year-old Miles thrown out of his fancy private school over his sociopathic tendencies. In fact, the whole idea of Miles being a prodigy doesn’t matter that much. The little kid’s only as smart as any middle-aged guy who’s managed to build an impressive taxidermy collection of women’s hands.
That frees up the plot to move swiftly, with the characters too busy freaking out to do the incredibly stupid things that you expect in horror movies. Miles’ mother (played by a daringly haggard Taylor Schilling) doesn’t even wait around to hand a cassette over to a child psychologist after recording her kid rambling on in a foreign language.
The miserable mom is working with pretty efficient doctors, too. There aren’t a lot of irritating scenes where no one’s pretending that Miles isn’t a nutcase. That momentum keeps going right up to a conclusion that’s kind of obvious while offering some unexpected moments.
The story’s told in an impressive old-school style as well. There’s just enough CGI to create a fairly original second-best scare. The third creepiest moment is just a whisper. The Prodigy may run on for just a minute too long, but horror fans should really support this alternative to murky supernatural thrillers about demons and dolls.