Directed by: Nicholas McCarthy
Written by: Jeff Buhler
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott and Colm Feore
Classification: R; 90 minutes
Recognizing the easy metaphor of innocence lost, horror movies have a long history of leaning on evil children. There are two Children of the Damned films, four Omens (five if you count the remake), eight Children of the Corns. But The Prodigy may be the first killer-kid movie to pivot on paprika as a plot point. Allow me to explain, because I don’t want director Nicholas McCarthy’s feature to sound the least bit enticing, or appetizing.
The Prodigy opens with a small mercy by making its ridiculous premise clear from the get-go: Moments after a serial killer is gunned down by authorities, his spirit is reincarnated inside the newborn of doting suburban parents Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney). Think Live’s Lightning Crashes music video crossed with the Child’s Play films, but, again, far less entertaining. By the time Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is eight years old, he’s a full-on psychopath, albeit a highly intelligent one who has a taste for Eastern European cuisine. Why’s this? Oh, right, because the murderer inhabiting his body is (was?) Hungarian, a weirdly specific plot point that the Hungarian anti-defamation league, if such a thing exists, might want to investigate.
From there, McCarthy’s film dips its toes into some stock scare tactics – the whistling tea kettle, the dark hallway, the creepy basement – while struggling to figure out whether it wants its third act to be a boring or bad-ass sort of bonkers-bananas. It settles for the former, unfortunately, even though Colm Feore has fun walking onto the Toronto set to deliver a few bombastic lines (“Soon the invading soul will have control!” he bellows, and for a moment, the movie gods are gracious).
Another stroke of casting fortune was landing Scott as the disturbing Miles. I hesitate to applaud any business decision that encourages a kid to channel the spirit of a rapist and murderer, but the young actor accomplishes what I can only assume The Prodigy set out to do: make you reconsider parenthood, and just how much paprika you should stock.
The Prodigy opens Feb. 8.