The new horror film The Prodigy is about an evil child, and therefore follows a fairly predictable formula. The kid starts as a bundle of joy, then bad things happen but no one wants to believe the child did them, then the terror escalates as a parent or caregiver discovers a horrifying secret that leads to a dramatic climax—and a likely sequel. The genre has a rich and very popular tradition in cinema, including Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Bad Seed (1956), Village of the Damned (1960), the Omen series (from 1976), The Good Son (1993), Orphan (2009), Hereditary (2018) and many others.
In this case the story centers on Sarah (Taylor Schilling), a mother whose young son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) is not only oddly advanced for his age (a blessing) but also seemingly possessed (a curse). It’s not just kids, of course; many films play off the assumed childish innocence theme, including those featuring seemingly harmless dolls (Child’s Play and Puppet Master, for example). It’s an intriguing premise, but one that’s been done before and therefore the challenge for filmmakers is finding a new way to tell an old story, a way to add a new twist. The Prodigy borrows heavily from the many demonic possession movies because—well, why wouldn’t you? If The Exorcist can create sequels and a slew of imitators, why not?
But demons have been done to death, so the screenwriter changed it up a bit. We can surmise the studio pitch as something like “It’s The Omen and Child’s Play—but with a twist! It’s not the Devil that possesses the boy, but another person’s spirit!” Translating from the sacred to the secular, a few characters were swapped out but their roles remain. Sarah takes troubled eight-year-old Miles to see a psychiatrist named Jacobson, who—armed with Rorschach projective ink blots and a firm belief in both hypnosis and reincarnation—soon becomes convinced that Miles is afflicted by “an invading soul.”
In the real world these would of course raise red flags; hypnosis is not a reliable guide to recovered memories or accurate biographical information about past lives, but instead a source of freeform fantasy and subjective feelings…
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