A psychologist engages a dangerous, young genius in a battle of wits -- unaware of the supernatural power the girl possesses, or that her life hangs in the balance.
March 13th, 2018
I hate feeling wishy-washy at the conclusion of a screening – certainly for a film I’m meant to review.
There are so many great things to tout and then there are so many things which didn’t quite make the cut.
And so I’m left trying to determine what exactly was left out and why I came out feeling like there was something of a missed opportunity.
And such is the case with the new horror/thriller Prodigy.
Played by Richard Neil, grizzled and damaged psychologist James Fonda (that’s such a close brush with Jane Fonda – I wonder if it’s more than a coincidence) is called into a secret government facility by former classmate (and possible old flame) Olivia (Jolene Andersen) to assist in a situation she and her cohorts are currently assessing. A young girl named Eleanor “Ellie” (Savannah Liles) is being evaluated because of her dangerous and deadly gifts. She’s got a superior intellect with the attitude to match as well as the capabilities to move things with her mind – telekinesis. But time is running out. Those in charge are planning to destroy Ellie, so that they can autopsy her in order to see what makes her tick.
My immediate thought was that the film owes a debt to Mark Lester & Stephen King’s Firestarter. While there are no torched buildings or fire at all for that matter – the government’s interest in this particular prodigy will no doubt call up that 1984 Drew Barrymore vehicle. There’s also an element of The Bad Seed present here (a seed of The Bad Seed, perhaps?).
The visual effects – as Ellie shows off her telekinetic abilities – are all well done. Tossed objects around the room looked legit and I was impressed with some of the obvious camera framing to help accomplish the illusion. For both Liles and the technical team, nothing will impress more than her handling of one of the ink-blot cards. Loved it.
I liked the score from Igor Nemirovsky, but at times it toyed with melodrama and became a distraction. In certain sequences – most notably a more quiet scene between Olivia and Fonda – the score didn’t quite match up how I felt the scene should feel.
Overall, the film is shot well. I had some issues with the sound mix at points – where levels seemed to change from moment to moment, even within the same sequences. But most of the camerawork was fine, with several shots jumping out as truly lovely. Case in point – the initial chess game between Ellie and Fonda – with the chess board in the fuzzy foreground – made me oh-so happy. Delightful and delicious framing.
I had problems with the heightened dialogue. Certainly I can see the necessity of techno-babble in an environment such as this, but it never quite fell from the actors’ lips with the proper amount of finesse or grace. I didn’t believe (at least not all of the time) that the actors had a firm grasp or understanding of the terminology they were spouting.
On that same token, the cold, sociopathic and adult delivery from Liles as Eleanor – never quite sold me either. Sure, she had moments of perfection, but overall – Ellie’s high-minded and manipulative way of speaking never quite made it to the label, “authentic”.
The performances from this small ensemble range from so close to good to downright irritating scenery-chewing. But no one ever finds total perfection.
Both Liles and Neil had some really wonderful acting moments between them, but like the dialogue deliveries, nothing here was consistent.
I was struck by a scene from Neil towards the film’s end as Fonda personally opens up to Ellie. It’s some great work from Neil – but I could have used a whole lot more of this quality spread throughout.
As for the supporting actors, Emilio Palame as Colonel Birch (looking eerily like George C. Scott’s character in the aforementioned Firestarter – just give him an eye-patch and the mirror image is complete) was the most guilty of some epic scenery-chewing. Such over-acting (paired with some cliché military dialogue) becomes a liability.
And I absolutely did not get the choices from Harvey Q. Johnson as one of the doctors (Werner) weighing in on Ellie’s situation. The character sits off to the side for most of the scenes, only occasionally offering any insight. And when he does, he’s soft-spoken and weirdly menacing. Not seeing a reason for these character choices, or truly the need for this character’s presence in the script at all.
And since films feel they must have some sort of comic relief, we’re offered up the character of Ryan (Aral Gribble) – a technician in the laboratory. It’s not a good performance, and that’s not helped out by the lame one-liners he’s given, including constant quips about a forthcoming date he doesn’t want to miss.
But I have to say… at the heart of the film is a solid and really interesting idea. It’s never allowed to live up to its potential, because so much of the acting never reaches the heights of greatness (or in many cases, even goodness). And the dialogue never quite rings true. The small cast and the great use of what is essentially a one-location story – hold so much intimate promise. And the payoff of this film is genuine, smart and nicely set-up early on. I like the trajectory and resolution of this story.
With so many problems at hand, even a good idea can’t outweigh so many lesser-than pieces to the film-making puzzle.
Prodigy is nowhere near perfect, but there are many good things which I can recommend. So it’s worth a look-see, but please take into account the reservations I have laid out above. In other words, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Prodigy is scheduled for theatrical and VOD release on March 13th, 2018. Here is the iTunes link.