Mainstream studio horror has completely gone off the deep end. It’s not that I’m setting up The Prodigy, a typically mediocre February slate release, as some kind of standard. It’s more that these films are just so bored with themselves that there’s nowhere to go but up. Creepy kids, almost supernaturally intelligent serial killers and psychologists who info-dump the protagonists to make up for lazy writing are par for the course. But what are we supposed to be taking away from all this? Isn’t horror supposed to reveal something to the audience? Shouldn’t there be some societal or social commentary inherent to the form? It’s fine to state that an anti-vaxxer or school shooting horror film would potentially be in poor taste, but on the other hand, people loved The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so there’s room for all this stuff. All I’m asking is: What is the point of making The Prodigy?
Even beyond all those other considerations, the film itself sets up so many ground rules for how its own plot is supposed to work before systematically throwing them all away that it has the feel of an exquisite corpse writing style that eventually resembled a horror movie. Is the kid possessed? Is he a prodigy? Both? At this point, I have no idea. Sure, one of those answers is plain as day, but why? The kid shows so many signs of early-onset psychopathy that with or without being a genius or being a vessel for a dead serial killer, there is some seriously shoddy parenting going on here. He’s killing insects and animals right out in the open. Does it matter if he’s sharing head space with an evil Hungarian? Stick that kid in a home! He’s dangerous!
If you’d told me there was a movie where a murderer pulls a Being John Malkovich on a little kid, I’d have eaten it right up. Too bad this is the movie we got. Can he see through the kid’s eyes? Can he actually shape-shift into his own form sometimes? Is the kid at all aware of what’s going on? And if there is a team of researchers out there who are studying this phenomenon, shouldn’t they have more information about the situation than just the bare minimum required to scare the kid’s mom into not taking any action whatsoever? All of these questions are asked by the movie and then just as quickly discarded as irrelevant, I guess, because to go any deeper with any of them might have turned this whole thing into a halfway decent movie, and we can’t have that, can we? As I said, it’s only February.
Or maybe I’m overthinking this thing. Maybe it’s enough that there is one genuinely good jump-scare. Maybe it’s actually good that the elements of The Prodigy that make the least sense are also the most effective. On the other hand, I’m truly worried about the mental well-being of poor Jackson Robert Scott. Between his scenes in 2017’s It and one very distressing dialogue scene here, that kid will probably be in therapy for the rest of his life.