“Like David Bowie…” “Yeah, like David Bowie…” Only, you know, not good.

You ever watch a movie that you think you’re going to enjoy and it ends up being so bad that you get angry? It’s funny because it doesn’t happen to me often, and then when it does, I step back and think, why am I angry about this, it’s not really something I should get angry about, so small and slight a thing as a movie, it was a half hour of my life and I made the choice to see it through and not hit stop at the first faint whiff that this was not only a bad movie but a stupid one. Because bad, I can endure. Bad, I can even enjoy. After all, the whole reason I was watching this movie was that I like bad horror movies. I enjoy the entirety of the Friday the 13th franchise and recently rewatched it because I’d been turned on to a podcast that was going through them one-by-one (In Voorhees We Trust). But there’s something in Friday the 13th that reminds me of the 80s and the woods in New Jersey and a certain time in DIY horror cinema that I find charming. There’s also a certain simplicity to the plot and the characters that I sink into as I watch that allows me to engage even though I know these aren’t exactly Shakespeare.

The dumb movie I watched last night was The Prodigy, which I checked out of the library. I was in the mood for something new, something in the horror genre, so I searched for 2019 horror movies and came across this and figured why not? It’s in the evil kid-mode, and I can dig that: The Bad Seed, The Omen. And the film, I’ll say straight off, wasn’t badly acted. In fact, the acting was the most solid part of the movie. What made me angry, rather, were the jumps in logic that simply didn’t make any sense (i.e., the writing). Some people refer to them as plot holes and that’s fine, but in the case of The Prodigy, I can’t help but see it as the absence of logic. So the short of it is: a middle-class couple trying to have a child eventually succeed. On the night the child is born, a serial killer’s last intended victim escapes his clutches and leads police back to his hideout/lair/what have you. Though the intended victim escapes by busting through a door, the serial killer was maybe…I don’t know out picking up his dry cleaning and didn’t hear her pounding to bust through the door and didn’t bother to check whether she was still tied up when he returned from picking up his dry cleaning…and once the intended victim leads police back, he goes to check on her, sees she’s gone, and decides to get naked and go out and confront the SWAT team holding the severed hand he’d cut off from his last intended victim. Are you with me?

Good, because in the interest of full disclosure the movie hadn’t lost me by this point. In fact, when they gun the killer down, the movie is cutting between the child’s birth and the killer’s death, and as the bullets hit the killer’s chest, the scene shifts to the newborn lying in the same posture as the killer, having his mother’s blood cleaned off his tiny chest in a nice little piece of visual juxtaposition/storytelling because this is going to be a story of reincarnation. This birth/death scene is followed by a montage of the child growing up to age eight. The montage is effective in moving time forward, though the only information it seems to be looking to communicate is that the child, Miles, is very smart, so smart that his mom wants to place him in a gifted-kids preschool. There’s a moment when he’s about five that he catches a spider and crushes it, which I think it supposed to be eerie and portend evil, but…most kids kill insects at some point, it’s not like this is the mark of Satan or anything. But the movie still had potential. I liked the actress playing the mom and the kid was good too. The dad was kind of dopey in a straight-laced vanilla handsome way, but I think he was supposed to be.

Anyway, the kid doesn’t just kill spiders. In a game of hide-and-seek with his babysitter (while his parents are having “date night” drinking in their car down by the river; the dad says, “Drink up, we’re not heading home til we’re finished these,” and hands the mom a beer; seriously, what couples drinks a case of beer in their car by the river for “date night” and who is driving home?), the kid sets her up to step on broken glass on the basement stairs (reminiscent of how Emily Blunt’s character steps on a nail going down her basement stairs in A Quiet Place, only it’s much more effective there). Then, after he does this to his babysitter, in a later scene to further demonstrate his evil, he hits a kid with a pipe wrench that he gets from the bathroom, because the kid wouldn’t switch lab partners with him at school. So, the parents consult a psychologist….ONE psychologist. The mother records a tape of her son speaking gibberish in a dream though we all know it’s not gibberish but another language, and the mother hands it off to the psychologist. The psychologist, in turn, gives it to a colleague, who has the tape translated, and guess what! The kid is speaking Romanian and saying shit like, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to rip you apart,” even though the boy, when his mom woke him up said he wasn’t having a nightmare but a wonderful dream, which is admittedly eerie, even if we did predict that something like this was happening.

And so, the translator and psychologist bring the mother in and tell her that her son has a reincarnated soul in him that’s fighting for supremacy with her son’s soul. The translator, who might also be a psychologist…it’s not clear, says that he’s seen this before and that the reincarnated soul will leave once it’s fulfilled whatever it came back to do. Now as a brief aside, you remember in The Exorcist how, when Reagan first starts to get possessed, her mother takes her to medical professionals and they run this crazy barrage of tests to try to find why she’s acting so strange, and they go back and forth about what it could be and it takes a while before she’s even willing to consider a supernatural explanation? Yeah, that doesn’t happen here. And while I know it’s not fair to compare every horror movie to the Citizen Kane of scary movies, all the mother does in The Prodigy, when confronted with this explanation, is show a slight bit of skepticism, head home with a DVD the translator/psychologist gives her, watches it, and all of sudden she’s ready to entertain the notion. No second opinions or anything. And while her husband is skeptical, he’s boxed out so quickly he might as well not be here.

And since I mentioned the DVD, as an aside here, another problem I had with the movie was the use of technology. This movie seems to be taking place in contemporary times, but she has a DVD player on the laptop. Do they still make those? It’s been a while. I have an iMac from 2008 that has a DVD player on it, but my MacBook, which I bought in 2012 doesn’t have one nor does my work laptop and I just figured they stopped making them. But even if it’s the case that her laptop is really old, or she just hunted down one of the newer ones with a DVD player and I just didn’t realize they made them anymore (I guess they must make them) and this is a minor quibble, the more major quibble I have with the tech in the film is that she records her son speaking in Romanian with an analog dictaphone. That’s right: tape. Like, what? It’s obvious she has an iPhone, and she could have just recorded it using software on that, but nope, she hears her son talking in his sleep and goes straight for the dictaphone because, of course, we all have one of those lying around the house. But this is all besides the point: I’m sure I wouldn’t have questioned these things if I’d been fully immersed in the plot.

But I wasn’t. Because the kid ups his game and kills the family dog and hides it behind a wood panel beneath the tool bench in the basement. But the mother doesn’t discover this until the house becomes infested with 8,000 flies and she follows the flies to their source of greatest density and pries open the wood panel. At which point, you best believe if this was my kid, he’d get committed somewhere. We’d be going full-on Exorcist mode of consulting the best scientific minds my admittedly-limited resources could buy to see what the hell is wrong with my kid, but nope! That’s not what happens here. Or, I should say, it’s where they’re headed but they hesitate. And it’s unclear why they hesitate? He just killed the dog with garden shears and hid the body behind a wooden panel! Daddy comes home, and they send the kid to school. Their plan is for the mother to pack a bag and for the father to pick him up and they’ll meet wherever it is they’re taking him. Why? I haven’t a clue. Why don’t they just take him there? He’s 8. It’s not as if they need to trick him or overpower him. But the father goes to pick him up while the mother packs a bag, and on the way to wherever they’re planning to commit him, the kid uses his garden shears (where he was hiding them, I don’t know) to cut the seat belt and stab his dad in the side, at which point the dad crashes into a tree. Then we’re at the hospital, and despite the gaping wound in his side, no one’s remotely suspicious as to how this happened…

Did you ever get the feeling a movie would be better if you were drunk? The other night I came home from dinner and drinks with a friend, and I was tipsy, so I put on Escape Room, which I’d also checked out of the library. I’d saved this particular movie for this particular night, because I realized I would probably come home tipsy and wouldn’t want to watch anything that required deep thought. And I was right. It was a perfect selection for that situation. Despite the fact that it plays like a PG-13 Saw-sequel that forgot to include Jigsaw and the ubiquitous moralizing that continued to get more and more convoluted as the franchise progressed, I had a good time watching it. And don’t get me wrong: it’s mediocre, but I’m pretty sure it knows it’s mediocre and isn’t trying to pretend it’s not, and in this, the film seems to reach a tacit agreement with the audience that you know what this is and we know what his is and as long as we’re both on the same page, let’s get on with it and enjoy the show. Yet, I’m pretty sure The Prodigy would have been bad regardless of my state of sobriety, which unfortunately, was stone cold because it takes itself very very seriously.

So here’s where we come to the real spoiler, if I haven’t spoiled this already: after the dad gets in the accident and is in the hospital, the mom takes the kid and decides she’s going to help the serial killer’s soul finish its business so it’ll leave. After all, this is what the psychologist/translator told her happened to the soul he encountered in India. Only thing: the soul he encountered in India came back to nurse his mother in his final days and say goodbye (fairly benevolent acts, if you ask me). But this serial killer soul came back to kill the final victim who escaped. And is he really going to stop after getting her and just leave the boy? Think, mama! Think! I know, I know, your husband’s in a coma, this is your son who you love more than anything in the world, you’re probably not in the best frame of mind to proceed logically. But haven’t you ever seen Child’s Play!?! This killer is not going to stop and leave your son simply because you go to the last victim and take her out. Psychopaths, at least in movies, will kill and kill again until someone puts an end to them. And then they’ll come back for the sequel, if they’ve made enough money in the previous entry and kill some more. But that’s just what she does. She packs a gun, some bullets, goes to see the last intended victim with the kid in tow. And when she doesn’t have the guts to shoot the woman, the kid comes in with a knife and guts the woman. A chase ensues when the mother realizes her son Miles is no longer in there, entirely subsumed by the spirit of the killer, and…

Well, they have a standoff, in the middle of an apple orchard I think. Or some kind of arbor. In any case, it’s autumn so there aren’t any leaves on the tress, much less fruit. The mother holds the gun pointed at her son, and we hear a gunshot. My first thought? Obviously some hunter came along and shot the mother before she shot the kid. But then the director cuts to the kid lying on the ground to try to fool us that the kid’s been shot. Only you know if you’ve ever seen a horror movie ever that the kid hasn’t been shot, so why exactly is the kid on the ground? Did he dive to the ground when he heard the gun? In any case, the next cut is to the mother lying on there bleeding out and a hunter standing a few yards away with a rifle. We knew. Okay. We knew the kid wasn’t going to die. This was a fairly predictable, not so ominous way to end it. The kid goes to a new family while his dad is on the mend, and we’re set up for a sequel. Miles: The Prodigy 2 if they’re following The Omen‘s trajectory here.

And so I finished the movie, the credits rolled, and I got mad. I’m not super into hating on things publicly, and I’m all right with letting a thing be what it is (in this case competently acted and directed but poorly written horror), but I think the point where this movie lost me and the point at which I started to actually get mad was when the mother decided to drive to the killer’s last victim’s house to “finish the job.” That’s the point at which all logic went out the window, and yeah, I do understand that some people will totally buy into the idea that she did it because she wasn’t thinking straight, that as a mother, she was willing to do anything to save her son, but I have kids too, and though I doubt I’ll ever be in this exact situation, I couldn’t help but think, there’s got to be a better way. You’re going straight toward the idea that the only way to help your son is to kill someone else, and I feel like you’d maybe pause a moment and try to explore other options. But eh, they didn’t, and I wasted an hour and a half I could have been watching something else on this, and then I wasted an hour complaining about it here, though sometimes, the complaining is what makes it all worthwhile. My advice, if you want to watch a bad new horror film from this year, something with that 2019 vibe, something to turn off your mind and simply entertain you for an evening, go with Escape Room and maybe a Manhattan or two to take the edge off.