(US - 2019)
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy. Written by Jeff Buhler. Cast: Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Colm Feore, Peter Mooney, Paul Fauteux, Brittany Allen, Paula Boudreau, Olunike Adeyili, Elisa Moolecherry, Michael Dyson. (R, 92 mins)
From 1956's THE BAD SEED and 1960's VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED to 1976's THE OMEN, 1984's CHILDREN OF THE CORN and 1993's THE GOOD SON to the modern era with 2009's ORPHAN to name just a select few, the "creepy kid" has been one of horror's more durable subgenres throughout the decades. Mario Bava's final film, 1977's SHOCK, released in the US in 1979 as BEYOND THE DOOR II, also had a memorable creepy kid in Marco (David Colin, Jr.), who's become possessed by the spirit of his dead father. SHOCK had an unforgettably effective jump scare in a hallway involving a practical effect pulled off simply by smart camera placement, and that moment is replicated by director Nicholas McCarthy in his latest film THE PRODIGY, the newest addition to the creepy kid pantheon. It's clearly meant as an affectionate homage, as McCarthy knows his horror history and has obviously seen SHOCK. He's also seen THE EXORCIST and THE EXORCIST III, both of which are invoked to various degrees in THE PRODIGY, but McCarthy knows better than to take the film down those familiar and over-traveled roads. Jeff Buhler (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) is the credited screenwriter (he also wrote the upcoming remakes of PET SEMATARY, JACOB'S LADDER and THE GRUDGE), but I'm curious how much of this was rewritten by McCarthy. Discounting his hired gun gig helming the 2017 Investigation Discovery docu-drama FINAL VISION, McCarthy's films thus far--2012's THE PACT, 2014's AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR, and "Easter," his segment of the 2016 horror anthology HOLIDAYS--all share common themes of strong women, usually mothers or someone (an aunt, an older sister) put in the position of being responsible for children, perhaps going to great lengths to protect them, and some level of dysfunction or trauma that haunts a family over generations, a curse often passed down like a genetic flaw. These recurring themes turn up throughout THE PRODIGY, which takes the "creepy kid" trope and incorporates it into what must be considered McCarthy's obsession. THE PACT is one of the best horror films of the last ten years, and while AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR and "Easter" weren't bad, they didn't live up to the potential McCarthy showed with his debut. The uncompromising and unpredictable THE PRODIGY feels, seven years later, like the logical follow-up to THE PACT.
IT) is a genius requiring a special school, though Sarah is concerned that his development is behind in other areas, such as his inability to adapt in social situations with other children. Miles has moments where he isn't himself, and when a babysitter (Elisa Moolecherry) is seriously injured in a basement trap clearly set by Miles, he says he has no recollection of anything. He starts having bad dreams and Sarah records him talking in his sleep in what she initially assumes is gibberish but what's later revealed to be a form of Hungarian but in a rarely-used and archaic dialect. As his actions grow more sinister, he tries to explain to his parents that he sometimes doesn't feel like he's in his own body, to the point where Sarah and John can no longer ignore that something is very wrong with Miles.