The following article includes plot spoilers for the ending of the new horror film “The Prodigy.”
In “The Prodigy,” in theaters now, Taylor Schilling plays Sarah, a mother desperate to save her young son, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott), after an entity hijacks his body and threatens to overpower his soul.
In a departure from other memorable creepy kid films in the genre, the dark force seeking to inhabit Miles’ body is not a demon but the reincarnated spirit of serial killer Edward Scarka who was himself killed by police at the exact moment Miles was born.
“One of the things that I find soft and tiresome with traditional possession stories is, you know it’s a demon and there’s going to be a priest and a battle between good and evil,” said Jeff Buhler, the film’s screenwriter. "[With reincarnation], all of a sudden, you have an element that’s a variable we don’t quite understand.”
Buhler was inspired by the 1977 psychological horror film “Audrey Rose,” a movie about a little girl whom a man believes to be his reincarnated daughter.
“ ‘Audrey Rose’ had a profound effect on me as a kid,” said Buhler. “It just freaked me out. But the thing that I found so interesting about it was the idea that there’s more people on the planet who believe that we come back than there are people who believe we go to heaven or hell or some infinite place. I thought it was really interesting to play with that idea of a Western perspective.”
Miles’ unconventional host makes himself known when the 8 year old develops a sudden taste for paprika, begins talking in a rare Hungarian dialect in his sleep and develops early signs of advanced intelligence that his parents initially mistake for precociousness.
“That came from this question that [director Nicholas McCarthy] posed in one of our early conversations which is, ‘If you’re going to talk about reincarnation, what would the scariest thing be?’ ” Buhler recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, what if you had a kid, and that kid was Hannibal Lecter?’
“Hannibal Lecter was extremely smart but also unpredictable and sociopathic. So I wanted to take off-the-charts intelligence and those other sociopathic elements and plop them into this kid.
“The thing that makes it work so well is that, when you’re a new parent, if your kid’s intelligence is off the charts, you’re like, ‘We won the lottery!’ ” added Buhler. “And then it’s like...and he beats kids up with wrenches.”
Despite Miles’ sadistic new personality traits, Sarah remains determined to save her son until the very end, even becoming complicit in one of his murders. After discovering a stash of papers that suggests Scarka has unfinished business with Margaret St. James, the only victim who managed to escape him, Sarah resolves to help Scarka finish the job in the hopes that it will encourage him to pass on and release her son.
“Sarah’s choice at the end of the film was the most compelling aspect of her character for me when I first read the script,” said Schilling by email. “Her maternal instinct grew into pure ferocity...but maybe that’s a result of the choices she makes. She is losing her family, so I don’t think any of her choices are completely logical or rational. She is in this fugue state based solely on survival: The survival of her husband, the survival of her son, and the survival of her family as a whole.”
Schilling, who doesn’t have any children of her own, even ran the idea by other parents to determine how plausible the idea might be.
“The progression of her actions didn’t seem unimaginable to some of the parents I spoke to,” she said. “In fact, some said her choices made sense. Sarah felt complete responsibility for Miles’ well-being, and her final choice was an outgrowth of that. She was willing to go to any length to preserve what she knew of her son.”
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