The psychological thriller Prodigy begins with a psychologist (Richard Neil) being brought to a secret government “black site” to interview a dangerous prisoner. When he receives an orientation, he and we expect to see a superhuman sociopath like Hannibal Lector. But he enters the secure room to face a freckled-face nine-year-old girl (Savannah Liles). Her arms are pinned to her chair with restraints. We learn that there is an understandable reason for this.
She is abnormal in every way – in her super intelligence, in her telekinetic powers and in her capacity for performing monstrous and lethal acts. The two embark on a game of wits with very high stakes. There’s a deadline (literally) so the game is also a race against the clock.
It’s the first feature for writer-directors Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, and Cinequest hosts Prodigy’s world premiere. Haughey and Vidal have bet their movie, in large part, on the performance of a nine-year-old actor. Savannah Liles is exceptional as she ranges between a very smart little girl and a monstrous psychopath and between a vulnerable child and a person who has made herself invulnerable. It’s a very promising performance.
In the Cinequest program notes, Pia Chamberlain describes Prodigy as “reminiscent of a cerebral episode of the Twilight Zone“, which is pretty apt. Just like the best of Rod Serling, Prodigy’s compact story-telling takes us to an environment that we can recognize, but which has different natural laws than the ones under which we operate.
Filmmakers have shocked us before with the juxtaposition of innocent looking children and their heinous deeds Sometimes those children have been created fundamentally evil (The Bad Seed, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen) and sometimes possessed by evil (The Exorcist). Prodigy takes a different tack – exploring how a trauma can produce monstrous behavior and whether evil behavior is reversible.
Prodigy is a thinking person’s edge-of-the-seat thrill ride. I’m looking forward to the next work from Haughey and Vidal. You can view the trailer here; note that this trailer is in color, but the version of the movie that I screened is in black and white.