Saturday, March 2, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: The Prodigy

The Prodigy was written by Jeff Buhler and directed by Nicholas McCarthy.

Buhler previously wrote The Midnight Meat Train (meh). He's apparently the go-to guy for remakes, as he currently has no less than three of them coming out soon (Jacob's Ladder, Pet Sematary and Grudge). McCarthy previously directed The Pact and At The Devil's Door.

The movie's tough to categorize, as it's equal parts horror, slasher film and thriller. For the most part it manages to succeed in all three genres, as it's a decent little horror/slasher/thriller film.

The Prodigy also features pretty much the exact same plot as Child's Play, but without the evil doll. Seriously! In Child's Play, serial killer Charles Lee Ray is shot by the police and takes refuge in a toy store. As he lays dying, he uses some kind of voodoo magic to transfer his soul into a Good Guys Chucky doll. Karen Barclay then buys the Chucky doll for her six year old son Andy. Over time, Chucky begins misbehaving and getting Andy into trouble. Of course Karen doesn't believe Andy when he tells her the doll can talk. She finally believes him when she discovers Chucky's battery compartment is empty.

In The Prodigy, serial killer Edward Scarka is shot by the police. As he lays dying, his soul is somehow transferred into Miles Bloom, a baby born at the exact same moment. Scarka then gradually takes over Miles' body, intent on using his new host to finish off the only victim to ever get away from him.

Not exactly the same, but pretty darned similar!

So far the film's only managed to gross an anemic $14 million against its $6 million budget. That's not exactly setting the box office on fire. It hasn't premiered overseas yet, and at this point I'm not sure it's going to. If it does, it'll probably rake in a bit more in foreign markets. If it's not going to play overseas, then don't expect to see The Prodigy 2 anytime soon.


The Plot:
Somewhere in Ohio, a young woman named Margaret St. James escapes from a dilapidated shed next to a remote house. She runs through the woods and makes it to a road, where she's almost hit by a passing car. The driver gets out to help Margaret, who holds up a bloody stump and shrieks, "He took my hand!"

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Sarah Bloom calmly informs her husband John that she's going into labor. He nervously helps her to the car and they speed off to the hospital.

Back in Ohio, a SWAT team invades the remote house, which belongs to serial killer Edward Scarka. He sees them coming and runs to check his woman pit in the basement. When he sees Margaret's escaped, he roars with rage. He bursts from his home (completely naked for some reason), seemingly brandishing a gun. The police open fire on Scarka, killing him. As they approach his nude body, they see he wasn't holding a gun at all, but Margaret's severed hand.

At that precise moment, Sarah gives birth to a healthy baby boy. Get it? Just to hammer home the point, we see the bullet wounds on Scarka's body are in the exact same spots as blobs of bloody afterbirth dotting Miles' tiny body (eww...). Do you get it yet? Do you? She names him Miles.

We then see a montage of Miles exhibiting advanced behavior as he ages— He doesn't cry like normal kids, starts talking when he's a year old and is abnormally smart. He also has two differently colored eyes (get it?).

Cut to Miles at eight years old. Sarah marvels at his intelligence and enrolls him in a school for advanced kids. John's a little spooked by his son, especially when he does odd things no normal kid would ever do, like asking for extra paprika.

One night Sarah and John go out and leave Miles with his babysitter Zoe. Miles begs her to play hide & seek before bedtime. As Zoe closes her eyes & begins counting, Miles loosens a light bulb above the basement stairs, and shatters a glass on the steps. When Zoe goes into the basement to find him, she steps on the broken glass (barefooted!) and falls down the stairs.

After the incident, Sarah questions Miles about what he did, but he claims he doesn't remember anything. That night Sarah hears noises coming from Miles' room. She goes to investigate, and sees Miles tossing & turning while seemingly speaking in tongues. Unnerved, she hurriedly records his rantings. Suddenly he wakes, and Sarah tells him he was having a bad dream. She's creeped out when he corrects her and says it was a good dream.

The next day at his fancy genius school, Miles sits at his desk, drawing shapely women's hands. Later on when he doesn't get his way, he grabs a monkey wrench from a closet and severely beats a fellow student. Horrified, Sarah takes Miles to see child psychologist Dr. Elaine Strasser and her colleague Arther Jacobsen. She tells them about his recent worrisome behavior, and gives them the tape she recorded of his nocturnal gibberish. They examine Miles and review the tape.

A few days later the two meet with Sarah again. Jacobsen says the language Miles was speaking in his sleep was a rare dialect of Hungarian. He then tells her about a six year old patient of his named Padman, who claimed to remember a full and complete past life, including his death. As an experiment, Jacobsen took the boy to the village he described. Padman effortless navigated the streets to his new personality's home, and sang his mother's favorite song to her. Once he finished, Padman returned to normal.

Jacobsen suggests something similar's happening here, and fully believes Miles is being taken over by a reincarnated spirit that still has something to accomplish. He says they need to remove this extra tenant from his head, before it becomes the dominant personality. Sure, why not. Naturally, Sarah doesn't believe a word of this New Age hogwash and thinks Jacobsen's nuts.

Shortly afterward, Miles' dog Tallulah disappears. Miles then cruelly taunts John about the fact that his father abused him as a child. John asks Sarah if she ever told Miles about that, and she denies it. Later they discover Miles has set up a nanny cam in their bedroom to spy on the two of them. John says Miles is obviously disturbed and needs to be institutionalized. Of course Sarah refuses to commit her precious angel. She then implies she thinks John might actually be abusing Miles! This upsets him so much he moves in with his brother for a while.

That night Sarah wakes from a nightmare and sees Miles standing at the foot of her bed. He says he's scared and asks if he can sleep with her. He lays beside her and begins stroking her arm provocatively, making her uncomfortable. He asks if she'll always love him no matter what he does. She nervously whispers yes.

Just then she notices flies buzzing around the room. She goes down to the basement, where the flies are even thicker. She sees a severed dog paw on the floor, and blood leaking from beneath a workbench. Miles hands her a hammer, and she uses it to pry off a board. To no one's surprise, Tallulah's dead body spills out.

Sarah takes Miles to see Jacobsen. He hypnotizes Miles, and asks to speak with whoever's taken over his body. Miles laughs, and orders Jacobsen to tell Sarah the hypnosis didn't work. He says if he doesn't comply, he'll tell the police that Jacobsen drugged and molested him
. A shaken Jacobsen agrees. After Miles leaves, Jacobsen notices he scratched the name "Scarka" into the leather couch.

Late that night, Jacobsen calls Sarah and tells her to make sure Miles can't hear her. He has her google Edward Scarka, a notorious Hungarian serial killer who died the night Miles was born (get it?). Scarka murdered multiple women, always keeping their severed hands as trophies. As an added bonus, Scarka had two different colored eyes— just like Miles. Jacobsen thinks Scarka came back from beyond because he has unfinished business in the living world.

Sarah searches Miles' room and finds a box containing newspaper clippings, maps and a copy of Margaret St. James' book, detailing her escape from Scarka. This causes Sarah to believe Scarka's using Miles to kill Margaret, the only one of his victims who ever got away.

For some reason, John returns to take Miles to the mental hospital. As they're driving along, he stupidly tells Miles where he's taking him. This angers Miles, who cuts John's seat belt in half with a pair of scissors, and then stabs him in the side. Startled and horrified, the injured John loses control of the SUV and crashes into a tree.

Sarah rushes to the hospital, where John's in serious condition. The Doctor says John's being kept in a coma until the swelling in his brain goes down, and doesn't know if he'll ever fully recover. Of course Miles escaped the crash without a scratch.

This causes Sarah to finally snap and lose her grip on reality. She drugs Miles, buys a gun and drives to Ohio, where she knocks on the door of Margaret St. James. She pretends to be a victim as well, and tells Margaret her book inspired her. Margaret reluctantly lets her inside and makes some tea. Sarah asks to use her restroom, where she loads her gun. She exits and points the gun at Margaret. Apparently she hopes that if she kills her, Scarka's "unfinished business" will be done and he'll leave Miles' body. 
Fortunately she can't make herself pull the trigger.

Just then Miles enters and stabs Margaret. She collapses to the floor, and Miles/Scarka slashes her stomach open, telling her she should never have run away from him. Miles/Scarka throws down the knife and walks out the door. Sarah tries to help Margaret, but she ends up bleeding to death.

Sarah chases after Miles as he walks through a field. She tells Scarka his business is now complete, and orders him to vacate her son. Scarka laughs and says the real Miles "disappeared" the moment she told him she'd always love him no matter what he did. He's now the only resident inside Miles' head.

Sarah raises the gun and prepares to fire. A shot rings out, and Sarah stands staring at Miles for a few seconds before she falls to the ground. We then see a passing farmer shot Sarah, thinking she was about to kill an innocent little boy. Scarka runs to the farmer and hugs him, as Sarah writhes on the ground.

Sometime later, Scarka's taken in by a foster family. The mother welcomes him, and he admires her "beautiful hands" (yikes!). He's shown to his room, where he looks in the mirror and sees the adult Scarka looking back at him.


• Welp, I'm glad I didn't watch the trailer before I saw the movie. It pretty much spells out the entire plot, including the big twist involving Scarka's possession of Miles. Why the hell do studios do this?

The Prodigy is an Orion Pictures, er, picture. Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time. A lonnnnnnng time. Nice to see their logo in a theater again. Even better, they used the same old school animation too, and didn't update it with fancy CGI.

• Check out the top of the poster: "From A Producer Of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose." Does this trick ever work? Aside from sounding grammatically clunky, do credits like this really drive customers to movies? 

Does the average moviegoer see this and think, "Hmm... from A Producer of The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, eh? Well he produced the HELL out of that movie, so that means this one must be just as good or even better!"

• Kudos to young actor Jackson Robert Scott, who plays Miles. He does an amazing job here, as he effortlessly alternates between the scared, vulnerable Miles and the evil, psychotic Scarka. It's a pretty impressive performance for a ten year old.

If Miles looks familiar to you, there's a reason for that. Jackson Robert Scott also played Georgie (for a few minutes, anyway) in 2017's It.

• All through the movie we get numerous scenes of Miles' face bisected vertically down the center. I'm sure the director thought this was cinematic genius, but it's definitely not subtle. We get it, movie, there're two people inside Miles' noggin.

• Sarah hears Miles mumbling Hungarian in his sleep, and takes him to see Dr. Jacobsen for a psych evaluation. I love the fact that Jacobsen IMMEDIATELY goes for the "reincarnation/possession" diagnosis. He doesn't say it might be a brain injury, a tumor or Miles subconsciously picking up the language from somewhere. Heck, he doesn't even accuse Sarah of suffering from Munchausen by proxy!

Nope, the only possible explanation for a child spontaneously speaking a foreign language is that they've been possessed by the reincarnated soul of a serial killer!

• During Halloween, Miles wears a skeleton costume, complete with face paint. I just have one question here: Who did his impressive, professional-looking skull makeup? Did his mom Sarah do it? If so, she missed her life's calling and should have been a movie makeup artist!

Or did Miles actually do it himself? I suppose it's possible, since he's no longer a kid at this point and has the mind of a full grown man. Maybe Scarka's skills were transferred along with his soul!

• It was pretty unnerving to see Miles casually humming while doodling a page full of ladies' hands. Especially when you remember Scarka's obsession!

• At one point Miles uses a monkey wrench to beat savagely beat a classmate at his School For Gifted Youngsters. Sarah then takes him to see Dr. Jacobsen, who hypnotizes him. This brings out Scarka, who threatens to ruin Jacobsen if he doesn't keep his mouth shut. A couple things here.

First of all, doesn't it seem might convenient to the plot that Jacobsen didn't record or film this session? If he had, then he'd have proof that Miles was possessed, and Scarka wouldn't have been able to threaten him. As is, even if Jacobsen through caution to the wind and told the authorities about Scarka, there's no proof!

Secondly, Miles/Scarka warns Jacobsen that if he squeals, he'll tell the authorities that he drugged him and forced him to have oral sex (!). When Jacobsen says no one will believe a kid's word over his, Miles/Scarka goes into graphic detail about how he'll accomplish this. He says he took some sedatives he found in Jacobsen's medicine cabinet, and harvested pubic hairs from his toilet and placed them between his teeth (!!!). Holy crap!

All through this incredibly uncomfortable scene, all I could think was that the director was forcing a ten year old kid to say this. After this movie Jackson Robert Scott's gonna need therapy for real!

• Once Sarah realizes Miles is possessed by Scarka, she decides to put him in a mental hospital. Instead of just driving him there herself, she calls John and has him do it.

If you'll remember, John was so creeped out by his own son that he moved out of the house and went to stay with his brother! It seems like the only reason for dragging John back into the movie was so the script could immediately get rid of him again.

• Plot Trickery Alert! So John's drafted to drive Miles/Scarka to the nuthouse. Note that Miles/Scarka has no idea where they're going, and thinks they're just out for a drive. For absolutely NO good reason, when they're halfway there John tells Miles where he's taking him, and says he's sorry it came to this.

Of course this angers Miles/Scarka, and he deliberately crashes the SUV, seriously injuring John.

Why frak would John TELL him he's taking him to an asylum? Why not wait until they were safely through the front gate? Answer: Because the movie needed to demonstrate how dangerous Miles/Scarka was, and almost killing his own father was the easiest way to do so.

Lucky for Scarka that Miles wasn't injured when John crashed the SUV into a tree. I guess he figured if he was killed too, he'd just start over in another kid's body?

• At the end of the film, Sarah's about to kill Miles/Scarka, when she's shot by a passing farmer who misunderstood the situation. We then see Miles— still possessed by Scarka— placed in a foster home where he can cause more havoc.

I thought of a better ending. In my version, Sarah actually goes through with it and shoots Miles/Scarka dead. She thinks she's finally won. She then goes back to the hospital to sit with her husband John, who's still in a coma. Suddenly John wakes, sitting bolt upright. It's a miracle! Cut to a closeup of John's face, as we see he now has two different colored eyes— just like Miles/Scarka did! 

Smash cut to black!

The Prodigy isn't high art, but it's a decent little genre-spanning thriller. It isn't particularly scary, but it features a couple of tense and unnerving scenes, and an overall feeling of dread. Kudos to young Jackson Robert Scott, who turns in an impressive performance as an eight year old possessed by an adult serial killer. I mildly recommend it, and give it a B-.

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