'The Prodigy' gives new life to evil-kid horror genre

MILES AND MOM: Jackson Robert Scott and Taylor Schilling in the film "The Prodigy." Rafy/Orion Pictures/Tribune News Service

Are demon children making a comeback at the movies? They were all the rage right after the 1960s – "The Exorcist," "The Omen" and "The Other" were nothing if not allegories for a generation of youth gone wild. The genre faded over subsequent decades, but it seems to be burbling up again in such recent movies as "Hereditary," "The Witch" and the new release "The Prodigy." As always in these stories, a supernatural force takes over a child, but there's a growing sense that the parents might share the blame.

In "The Prodigy," Taylor Schilling (Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black") plays Sarah Blume, a quintessential modern mom: Young, pretty, once hip, now living in the quiet suburbs of Philadelphia with her fashionably bearded husband, John (Peter Mooney), and their only son, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott). Miles is an unusual kid, with one brown eye and one blue ("like David Bowie," says an admiring woman). When the infant Miles startles his pediatrician by talking, Sarah stocks up on books like "A Gifted Life" and "Nurturing Genius."


We suspect she's nurturing something else. Miles has a sweet, sensitive nature, but also a propensity toward violence. He beats a fellow student with a pipe wrench and does something awful to the family pet, but claims to remember none of it. We know something Sarah doesn't – that Miles has some kind of connection to a killer. Only slowly do we realize what that connection is, and where it will lead both Miles and his too-willing mother.

All in the execution


"The Prodigy" deals in some very old tropes: The unknown ancient tongue, the hypnosis session, the journal full of creepy drawings. What makes it all work is the execution. Director Nicholas McCarthy and writer Jeff Buhler (both of 2012's "The Pact") pace the story nicely, building from mild shivers to violent jolts; the cloudy-day cinematography, by Bridger Nielson, is chilly and mournful; and Scott (who played Georgie in 2017's "It") is wholly believable as a frightened yet frightening child. "Mommy," Miles says, snuggling against Sarah in the film's follow-you-home moment, "will you love me no matter what I do?"


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