The Prodigy is neither a biopic of Bobby Fischer nor an ode to an early ISP, either of which would have made a far more interesting movie. Instead, it’s just a cut-and-paste job of every horror movie featuring a creepy kid from the last 30 years. It so transparently lifts every scene from other movies that you couldn’t use the script to teach plagiarism in a screen writing class because it’d be too on the nose.
The movie opens by introducing a serial killer with a fetish for ladies’ severed hands. Basically your run of the mill midseason Criminal Minds bad guy who doesn’t even warrant casting a recognizable guest star to play. A man of principle, he dies on his own terms: charging a SWAT team buck naked and waving a severed hand in the air. Oh Handsy, we hardly knew thee.
This spectacle is interspersed with scenes of Taylor Schilling having herself a baby who is immediately possessed by the spirit of Handsy. We can tell because it cuts from nekkid butcher to nekkid baby and the bullet holes of the first match the bloody afterbirth of the second. The subtlety, it burns.
Oh and don’t try to work out any symbolism or rationale for why this unsub is the one that possesses a baby instead of taking the express elevator down. Or why this baby is the one that caught a case of the murder soul stowaway. Or what meaning the hands have. There’s no metaphor here, no mysteries to be uncovered, just plagiarized motions to go through by rote.
None of the characters have any actual character traits or attributes outside the immediate designs of the plot. Honestly, I don’t even remember the names of either Schilling’s character or her character’s husband since they’re only ever referred to as mom and dad anyway. I’ll just refer to them as Piper and Mr. Piper. They don’t have friends. They don’t have family. They have no acquaintances or interaction with anyone else on the planet other than their kid and a couple of doctors. There isn’t even a passing reference to what they do for a living. They are total blank slates, with no texture of any kind.
The only person given the slightest actual characterization is their murder baby, but of course that characterization has only two elements: he’s a genius and he’s a psycho killer. They fast forward rather quickly through a couple other child actors until kiddo is eight years old and they settle on the kid who played Georgie in It.
Georgie is that very special sort of movie genius. The sort who has no actual demonstrable intelligence, but solves Rubik’s Cubes wicked fast and when faced with random symbol brain teasers points out the right squiggle before the audience can even read the question. Not just smart, but S-M-R-T smart. This means he gets to go to extra special private schools that seem to mostly involve the kids playing with tinker toys as if they were designed by GooP. Georgie is the stupid person’s idea of a smart kid.
Case in point: he at one point breaks apart a baby monitor, rewires it, and plants it as a bug so he can listen in to his parents’ secrets. So, you know, he was so smart he could make a baby monitor … do exactly what a baby monitor already does. And this is the single practical demonstration of his supposed genius in the entire movie. So the entire framing of the movie around ooh he’s a prodigy, he’s not just an evil child, he’s a genius bad seed, has no narrative purpose whatsoever. Literally, nothing about the movie changes if he’s not Evil Will Hunting.
But Piper and Mr. Piper are understandably concerned, what with Georgie shivving babysitters, beating classmates with pipe wrenches, and generally just staring at them creepily. This leads to the most hilarious scene of the movie that illustrates every problem with the pacing of the story. It should go without saying that I am paraphrasing here.
Their psychologist invites in a dude who has never met Piper or Georgie and launches right into “Western science refuses to acknowledge reincarnation what with all this stuff about ‘evidence’ and ‘science’ and ‘we’re taking away the medical license that you got on a cruise ship that declared sovereignty in international waters’.” Says the rich white dude without a trace of irony to the rich white lady. “Trust me, I met a creepy kid in India. Anyway, here’s a DVD I burned of a Dateline episode.”
“So you’re saying he’s possessed?”
“No, you fucking ignorant idiot, there’s no such thing as demons, this is just a simple case of a serial killer being reincarnated into your son’s body. Jesus, read a book, Piper.”
From the characters’ perspective, we literally go straight from “Georgie may have some developmental issues” to “The Scranton Strangler rents a room in Georgie’s brain condo.” No foreplay working up to the supernatural, not even a nominal round of speculation about which supernatural explanation might be in play. Just Dr. McCarthy busting through the wall like the Koolaid Man, yelling that the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know that vaccines are made of murderer souls.
This happens a mind-numbing 45 minutes into the movie. Which is both impossibly too sudden from the point of view of the characters, and interminably too long for the viewers, since we have known from the very first scene what was happening and have been waiting for the fucking characters to catch up so something, anything, can actually happen in this exhausting plot.
Of course, this also leads to Mr. Piper swinging for the fences on a father of the year nomination. After his son acts creepy and his wife blames it on reincarnation, he just … leaves. I like to think that he took one look at the rest of the script, and just said “I’m out! Deuces!” Piper explains to Georgie that Mr. Piper is just staying with his brother until he calms down, but we all know he was on Tinder before he hit the first stoplight on his way out of that domestic sinkhole.
I’m not sure how 90 minutes can seem like six hours, but this film accomplished that feat. It was largely that dedication to a humorless dull plod through scenes you’ve seen before, punctuated only by lazy jump scares that you see coming thirty seconds in advance every single time. What minor characterization exists is utterly irrelevant to what passes for the plot. There is no metaphorical layer, not even some half-assed nod to nature vs. nurture that the outline of the story should be able to generate if only by autonomic reflex.
And yes, Georgie kills the family dog. My kingdom for a sewer clown.
Dr. Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.
Header Image Source: Orion Pictures