Largely set in a single location, the sci-fi thriller by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, Prodigy, proves to be an entertaining, albeit flawed, affair about a broken man interviewing a prodigious child with demons of her own.
Richard Neil stars as James Fonda, a worn-down psychologist who is still struggling after the death of his daughter and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage years prior. Strongly reminiscing James Remar from Dexter in both voice and demeanor, Fonda is tasked with cracking the psychological nut that is Ellie (Savannah Liles), a little girl who displays an intellect far greater than anyone has ever seen, to the point that she has developed supernatural powers.
Naturally, the government wants to put Ellie down, finding her to be a threat and wanting to study her brain to develop weapons no doubt, but Fonda was brought in to make one last attempt at trying to get through to her and figure out why she’s displaying such violent tendencies.
For some reason, there’s an extremely limited amount of time Fonda has to work with the girl before she’s sent to be executed, so he must work fast if he wants to save her. Although this seems to be a vehicle for some tension building, it never feels earned, as I kept questioning why they would only allow him one session with someone who clearly has a complicated mind.
Why was it so urgent that she be killed that night? Was this general so eager to murder this girl that he couldn’t wait a while longer to see if this new treatment could work?
Chess plays a big part in Prodigy as well, with Fonda using it as a both a device to crack the surface of Ellie’s guarded mind and a metaphor for both Ellie and Fonda’ lives. I generally dislike chess metaphors in films, and this was no exception, but it wasn’t a huge detractor – more an annoyance.
What I am a fan of is filmmakers who challenge themselves with shooting in a single location. It’s so easy to lose an audience when making a single-location film, but Haughey and Vidal keep things interesting, despite the drab locale of an interrogation room in a nondescript building.
Relying on dialogue, solid camerawork and lighting, the narrative never feels boring and moves at a nice clip. They smartly kept the runtime down to a respectable 80 minutes as well, telling the story they needed to without any extra padding.
Prodigy is a serviceable first feature from Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, and while its shaky performances and script prevent it from truly shining, it still manages to be an entertaining little thriller.