The Prodigy (NC16)
Starring Taylor Schilling, Jackson Robert Scott, Colm Feore
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
Boy, this severely twisted kid in The Prodigy sure isn't going to help our falling birth rate. One look at him and I guarantee you'd never want to have children.
Eight-year-old Miles Blume (Jackson Robert Scott) gives his parents the evil eye, cusses with his foul mouth, creeps up on his spooked mum and lurks in the shadows with really sharp tools. In an early scene of his wickedness, he deliberately hurts the babysitter in a very painful game of hide-and-seek. Useful tip — never play anything while barefoot with anybody's kid ever.
“We all have to go sometimes. Even you. You're going to die,” he tells his dad menacingly. Man, it's safer to raise a pet dog (Spoiler alert: the poor dog here doesn't fare very well, too).
And get this: the boy somehow speaks obscure Hungarian without even being taught how. Because, in a most extreme case of truly lousy timing, Miles is born in Pennsylvania right after a very vile and violent Hungarian-speaking serial killer, Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux), is killed by cops in neighbouring Ohio when his final female victim manages to escape.
Yep, we're talking about the maniac being born again in the kid here. Resulting in two souls fighting to inhabit the same body the way two fat guys jostle to go through the same narrow door.
You know this is a tale about reincarnation because the mum's (Taylor Schilling) screams at childbirth are juxtaposed with the villain screaming while being shot to hell in a sort of sickly-parallel film technique by horror-buff director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact, At The Devil's Door). You know also that if this was, say, a Thai chiller, we'd be terrified right out of our 10 previous lives because our own fright-meisters in our Asian backyard are very good at staging reincarnation scare fare.
Which means that The Prodigy, while being somewhat unnerving with jump scares here and there in a slowly-cooking ang moh way, will not spook us — hardened believers of past-life karma drama — into keeping the lights in our HDB flats turned on. Or maybe just this idea of reincarnation is supposed to be inherently scary.
“It's only foreign to Western minds. In most of the world, reincarnation is an accepted part of life,” a past-life expert here (Colm Feore) explains to impress the movie's startled Western viewers. While we here in the funky, mysterious East have already been there, done that and seen that.
“Your son is just developing early. He's what we call a smarty pants,” the doctor tells the initially wow-ed mother, Sarah, when her “prodigy” son shows the genius potential that would top an elite SAP school in Singapore.
Smartypants? More like smarty psycho.
Now, the child actor here, Scott — channelling his junior Jack Nicholson from The Shining — creeps me out with his rehearsed look of cold-eyed badness because I always get nightmares about children when I think about going spine-chillingly broke raising them. By the way, the kid has two differently coloured eyes just like the serial killer, so that mummy knows for sure that little Sonny is right in there with big Baddie.
But frankly, we really do get a lot of deadly under-agers in horror deals like this —creepy kids whom every grown-up underestimates and always never ever imagine are capable of pure evil despite multiple screenings of The Omen. Seriously, don't folks in horror movies ever watch horror movies?
So this makes mummy Sarah the best thing here as Schilling anchors this flick sympathetically as the MILF — that’s Mother In Loony Freefall — going unhinged as she's both baffled and terrified by the increasingly sinister Mini Spooky Me in her predictably big house with predictably deep hallways dipped in predictably bad lighting.
We get behind her as she breathes heavier and heavier in enveloping panic, something the mostly quiet film does here cleverly instead of piling it on with screeching horror sounds and music. When Schilling's ideal-for-horror eyes widen with fear, we want to put our arm around her and tell her, “For goodness sake, put that little monster up for adoption right now!”.
Every bone in her body tells her that her small child is King Kong-size beastly. Primarily because he touches and leers at her when they're alone, looks kinda transformed into a strange man in the dark and in a terrifically prolonged scene in a basement laced with blood, flies and sharpened tension, little Miles actually admits to the cruelest dark deed in a tender but malicious “Mummy, I'm just a kid” manner. I tell you, the desperate extent to which Sarah would go to protect her child and ensure the recovery of his threatened soul makes for a really kicking but disturbing ending here which shows that nobody is truly safe from anybody, anywhere, at any time.
At which point, you forget that this is a movie about reincarnation because it looks just like a film about possession. Director McCarthy takes the easy and lazy way out by not being very rigorous with his concept of rebirth which only Shirley MacLaine and Dalai Lama fans in America would believe. He makes no attempt to mention karma, retribution, a twist of fate, past bad deeds or exactly how the kid has been picked to be the vessel for the killer in the first place.
“There's a battle being waged inside your son. A war between his natural soul and this old one ..... One will become dominant and the other will be absorbed,” the past-life egghead warns Sarah about the utter danger of the in-body invader. Before staging a hypnosis intervention to draw out the evil boarder in the only major reference to anything about being reborn again.
It's a good scene which we really could have seen more of.
Maybe in the next life. (***)
Photo: TPG News/Click Photos