Prodigy movie review: little girl lost

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Prodigy red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

This low-budget science-fiction film has an ambition that exceeds its reach, and has nothing to surprise the self-respecting geek a movie like this one is aimed at.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big SF fan; I’m desperate for movies about girls and women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

Psychologist Dr. Fonda (Richard Neil) is called in to a secret military installation to evaluate nine-year-old Ellie (Savannah Liles), who is being held with the kind of high-security measures more suited to the likes of Hannibal Lecter — including the face mask — than a little girl. Fonda is a bit of a maverick, we’re meant to believe, and he hasn’t read the file on Ellie that was provided to him because he’d rather rely on firsthand observation… and so we learn along with him why the team there calls her a “thing” and a “ticking tomb bomb”; why the danger she presents is classified; what her “mutation” is. It turns out to be not terribly interesting and far from original — certainly not to any self-respecting geek a low-budget science-fiction film like this one would be aimed at — and if the truth about Ellie actually requires that she wear that Lecter mask, we never discover why.

“Would you like me to quote Rorschach from Watchmen here? Cuz I can certainly do that.”
“Would you like me to quote Rorschach from Watchmen here? Cuz I can certainly do that.”

Prodigy, the first feature from the writing-directing team of Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, has an ambition that exceeds the reach of its underwritten script and stilted performances. Ellie is allegedly superintelligent and sociopathic, but she comes across as an adult’s idea of what such a nine-year-old would sound like and act like, not an organic representation of such a “prodigy.” And Fonda’s approach to dealing with her seems unlikely to get through to even this contrived notion of such a child. Worse, the ultimate destination of his evaluation is completely at odds with everything that has come before — cliché wants to triumph, and doesn’t — and also seems unlikely to satisfy the particular reason that Fonda’s acquaintance, an “agent” of some unspecified organization (Jolene Andersen: Bounty Killer), brought him in, though it clearly does.

This might have worked as a short film, but as even a brief feature (one hour and 20 minutes), Prodigy ends up obvious and small, which is plainly the opposite of what it intends.

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