A wise man once said there were three types of horror videogames:
1. The first is where you’re in a dark room and a guy in a mask jumps out a cupboard and goes: “Abloogywoogywoo!” In cinematic terms this would be something along the lines of Aliens, Halloween, Friday the 13th and the like.
2. The second is where the guy in the spooky mask isn’t in the cupboard, but standing right behind you; and you just know he’s going to go “abloogywoogywoo!” at some point. But he doesn’t, and you’re getting more and more tense, and you don’t want to turn around because he might stick his CENSORED into your CENSORED! That’s more like The Conjuring, or The Shining or The Ritual or other horror films with single word titles like Ring or Suspiria.
3. The third is where the guy in the spooky mask goes “abloogywoogywoo!” while standing on the far side of a brightly lit room before walking slowly over to you, plucking a violin and then slapping you in the face with a t-bone steak and THIS one would be The Prodigy. A film that telegraphs its scares from so far away that even a man missing both eyes who was utterly reliant on a seeing eye dog would be able to see them coming. (All apologies to Yahtzee Croshaw for cribbing from his review of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the description was too perfect to pass up.)
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Director Nicholas McCarthy’s (The Pact, At the Devil’s Door) latest film, The Prodigy, tells the story of parents Sarah (Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black), John (Peter Mooney) and their strangely gifted, intelligent child Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) who begins to demonstrate some worrying habits like brutal violence, speaking an obscure Hungarian dialect and demonstrating a strange obsession with hands. Severed ones.
The Prodigy lacks any sort of nuance, sense of the dramatic, or horror pacing. It has little in the way of atmosphere, relying instead on cheap jump scares to terrorise the audience. The first three minutes alone have three jump scares and by the time the film is over, the audience is likely to be so inured to them that they will inevitably be greeted with a long, resigned sigh rather than anything more.
The problem is that they are too obvious. Far, far too obvious. It takes too long for the scare to show up, clearly telegraphing that something is about to happen. Jump scares are a lazy man’s horror, a cheap shot to get the adrenaline going; but they can be done well. Deep Blue Sea is the perfect example of a jump scare done right. The scene with Samuel L. Jackson’s hero speech is a marvel of timing and playing with audience preconceptions.
The Prodigy wishes it was that clever. It has one genuinely good jump scare in the entire run time – and that one is wasted in the trailer!
Once again, this is a film that relies on seemingly intelligent people making irrational decisions to move the plot along. The parents, even once aware of the potential danger Miles possesses, danger which is made abundantly clear, they make no effort to defend themselves or limit his ability to cause harm, they also seem blissfully unaware of many of the things he gets up to within the film that are, frankly, far from subtle but yet they seem oblivious. Even when it is obvious their son is a danger to them, they think nothing of getting up in the middle of the night, defenceless, not even bothering to turn a light on. Why would you do that, after all? Far more effective to stand in the darkness, shuddering, till something dreadful happens instead.
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But it’s not all bad. The acting is fine for the most part, but special mention needs to be given to Jackson Robert Scott, who steals every scene he’s in. He has the ability to switch from being charming and innocent to pants-wettingly terrifying in the blink of an eye and when he says he’s going to carve your eyes out, you believe him. Following on from his breakthrough performance as Georgie in the 2017 remake of Stephen King’s IT, this role continues to cement his horror acting chops. Definitely someone whose career bears watching.
The Prodigy is, sadly, a disappointment. It is not a good film, but nor is it a truly bad one. It is simply mediocre. The scary child trope has been done and done and done over again by this point, there’s no real explanation given for why events happen as they do, no attempt to draw out the reveal of Miles as something other than he appears to be. Ultimately, a movie that will leave no lasting impression on the viewers, the only hope being that Jackson Robert Scott goes on to bigger and better things.
The Prodigy releases in UK cinemas today, 15 March 2019.