Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Richard Neil works well as the psychologist, convincing in both his professional and human aspects, bringing much-needed nuance to the role."

A middle aged psychologist, somewhat battered by life, as is evident from his clothes. A darkened room with table, chairs and observation window. A freckle-faced nine year old girl in a straitjacket. Prodigy doesn't waste any time on set-up. We are here for the conversation between adult and child, perceived as a power game by the hidden observers, perhaps because they're more like the child than they realise.

They don't see it that way. She's referred to as a mutant; there's a hint that she's one of several, opening up the prospect of a Midwich Cuckoos scenario, but this is never developed. They know that she's hyper-intelligent and that she's a killer, with another worrying trick up her sleeve. Presumably reared on a certain type of science fiction, they assume this means that she has it in for humanity, and they're prepared to do whatever is necessary (whether or not it makes scientific sense) to contain the threat.

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Richard Neil works well as the psychologist, convincing in both his professional and human aspects, bringing much-needed nuance to the role. Opposite him, Savannah Liles handles the demanding role of the child impressively well for her age, but the script asks a lot of her and doesn't leave her with much room to maneuver emotionally. This means that we have to rely on Neil to connect with her rather than being able to do so directly. She does manage to deliver her elaborate dialogue without tripping up or sounding unnatural, which is a step up from many young actors in similar roles, and we will doubtless see more of her in years to come.

The real difficulty the film faces is that, from the outset, is has very few places it can go. There's no salvaging metanarrative like those found in Anna or Wang's Arrival; everything is very pared down, putting more pressure on the actors. It is to the writer/director team's credit that their eventual choices are bolder than in most films of this ilk, but ironically this may disappoint some viewers who go into it seeking a different kind of satisfaction.

Simple though it is in terms of location and set-up, Prodigy is attractively shot and features good sound mixing, important in context. It's a solid piece of work in as far as it goes, it just doesn't have much to say that's new or the brilliance required to make the familiar stand out.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2018
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Prodigy packshot
A psychologist is invited to interview an unusually intelligent child, but the situation proves more complex than he anticipated.

Director: Alex Haughey, Brian Vidal

Writer: Alex Haughey, Brian Vidal

Starring: Richard Neil, Savannah Liles, Jolene Andersen, Emilio Palame, David Linski

Year: 2017

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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