Blu-ray | Digital
Directed Alex Haughey, Brian Vidal
Written by Alex Haughey, Brian Vidal
Starring Savannah Liles, Richard Neil, Jolene Andersen, Emilio Palame, David Linski, Harvey Q. Johnson, Aral Gribble
Release Date: March 13, 2018
Prodigy opens with stock video camera footage of a family throughout the years. The final shot from this recording is a young girl in a park with a book far too large for her age, as she looks up into the camera…it’s a rather haunting image and a good omen of things to come.
Some of my favorite films are contained thrillers, using only one or few locations to turn up the tension and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope is a murder mystery all shot in one apartment. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is almost entirely set in the expansively home of its eccentric billionaire lead character. Even Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth pulses with intensity despite the bulk of screen time spent in the titular cubicle. Joining the ranks of these is Prodigy, written and directed by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal. Their film is a contained thriller that spends much of its 75 minute run time on a quiet, yet intense conversation between a therapist and a patient, a young girl in a straitjacket.
Eleanor (Savannah Liles) is strapped up like Hannibal Lecter when James “Jimmy” Fonda (Richard Neil) walks into the large interrogation style room inside a secret military compound. He’s invited there by an old friend, Olivia (Jolene Anderson), and we’re quickly introduced to the rest of people in the compound: a hardened Colonel, some shrinks, and a few technicians, all of whom are expository for when Jimmy has a question. The focus is mainly on the relationship between psychologist and patient and his evaluation process.
Liles is only 12 years old now and she is mighty impressive here. She’s not possessed and spewing pea soup like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She instead delivers a subdued and restrained performance that is far beyond her years. She delivers her lines with a cutting sarcasm and condescending tone that gives the viewers insight into Ellie’s character without giving much away. I feel a bigger budget, and yet lesser film would’ve spent 15-20 minutes fleshing out every detail of her backstory and thus rendering her subtleness pointless.
Richard Neil is also tremendous here. His take on Jimmy, especially in his first interactions with Ellie reminded me so much of the late great Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. Neil is a consummate everyman, and his cadence made me feel like I was in therapy myself. For large chunks of time the two just talk and interact and that’s where the real strength of the film can be found. One early scene after Ellie comments on his schlubby appearance, they discuss watches and time. I found that scene fascinating.
Where the film loses its grip is when it wants to explain too much. Why is the military afraid of a young girl? What really happened to her mother? What is “special” about her, and what is the extent of her abilities? I frankly would’ve been fine never finding out the answers. The film reminded me of some of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, where the final shots are open-ended and leave the viewer wondering. That said when we do get answers to the questions the answers are earned thanks to the two leads.
Nitpicks aside, Prodigy is a quick and easy watch with two terrific lead performances. It’s suspenseful, thought-provoking, and when Neil and Liles are engaged in their battle of wits, it’s strangely hypnotic. Prodigy succeeds as a confined thriller, and as an intelligent sci-fi drama. I highly recommend it.
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