Tag: taylor schilling

The Prodigy

The Prodigy (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

There are a dime a dozen horror pictures that leave such a terrible first impression, they never recover. Right from the opening shot involving a creepy-looking door and jump scare, I knew immediately where it was heading: a kidnapped woman (Brittany Allen) goes sprinting through the woods and onto the highway. A driver, enjoying a peaceful night drive on the road, makes a sudden movement to swerve in order to avoid hitting the anguished woman. There is pause and silence. The camera moves slowly toward the passenger window. It is so predictable, we know the exact point on the frame from which the escaped victim would appear suddenly. Cue the booming score. I rolled my eyes; I braced myself for a likely torturous ninety minutes. Then it proved me wrong.

Those looking for creepy children horror movies will get exactly what they expect from “The Prodigy,” written by Jeff Buhler and directed by Nicholas McCarthy, and then some. I refuse to reveal the precise machinations of the plot, but trust when I say that the material takes a concept and simply goes for it—not half-heartedly but all the way. Some viewers may scoff at it, especially since some developments are so ludicrous, but those who are open for a suspenseful and thrilling ride are certain to notice the steady rising action, that each turn of event is becoming increasingly unsettling. Eventually, we begin to detect a hopeless feeling because the challenge involving the boy comes across as seemingly insurmountable.

The boy is named Miles and he is played with great energy by Jackson Robert Scott. The young actor impresses not because he must deliver two performances but because of the way he tends to muddle the line between good Miles and bad Miles. No, the film is not a simply an extreme case of bipolar disorder or dissociative identity disorder. It is much worse, if you can believe it. Scott’s performance, to my surprise, matches that of Taylor Schilling, who plays the mother, the latter on the verge of breakdown due to the nightmare that has taken hold of her once happy home. It is required, for the sake of believability, that the two performances function on a similar level.

The titular character is highly intelligent and an exceptional liar. Tension accumulates because there is always the possibility that Miles is already two steps ahead of his parents (the father played by Peter Mooney) who realize they do not feel safe in their own house. When Sarah and John whisper in the middle of the night, for example, we squint at the carefully framed shadows. Could Miles be lurking there? The director is wise to employ numerous wide shots in order to arouse suspicion among the environment. We already know how terrified the parents are and so focusing on close-ups would have taken away from the rising action. I enjoyed, too, that there are moments when Miles does not have an inkling that his parents might be up to something. By changing it up once in a while, it keeps us on our toes.

“The Prodigy” surprises, too, when it comes to its level of brutality. There are implied violence… and then there are those that are so in-your-face, I caught myself looking away suddenly due to a mix of horror and utter shock that certain images are actually, daringly, shown. And yet it does not come across as gratuitous, you see. The reason is because the filmmakers actually care about telling a particular story first and foremost. The inevitable violence is a byproduct.

The Overnight

The Overnight (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Having moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, a married couple, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), is worried that they will not be able to fit in and make new friends—crucial especially because they have a young son in need of playdates. While attending a birthday party at a public park, Alex and Emily are approached by Kurt (Jason Schwartzman)—married to Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) and has a son within the age range of an ideal playdate—who is personable, has a lot of recommendations about the area, and is kind enough to invite the former Seattleites for dinner. Alex and Emily accept, convinced that the opportunity is too good to pass up.

Written and directed by Patrick Brice, “The Overnight” is a try-hard pseudo-European, would-be dark comedy about marriage woes and male insecurity. I found it tawdry in appearance, sophomorically written, and unwilling to go all the way when it comes to the promise it makes once it has revealed the strangers’ true intentions. Although it is only about eighty minutes long, I felt it is much longer than a three-hour, complex, sophisticated, ambitious European erotic drama.

A lot of the so-called jokes here involve penile issues. It shows penis prosthetics several times from many angles and it is supposed to be funny or shocking, but it comes off very American—and by that I mean that the overall aura of the film is ashamed of showing nudity by showing fake nudity. Because the dangling plastic looks so ridiculous—insulting even because it is supposed to appear genuine—it is highly difficult to empathize with what the male characters are saying when they begin to open up about their insecurities. The disconnect between the false penis and real emotions is jarring—and insulting.

The movie offers nothing real or important to say about modern or progressive lifestyles. At one point, the possibility that Kurt and Charlotte being swingers is brought up. Instead of exploring Alex and Emily’s concerns, fears, or questions, the screenplay conveniently brushes this fascinating avenue under the rug. Instead, we get a tired, petty, repetitious, and very unconvincing argument between Alex and Emily.

Because the material shows that the two are unable to handle what is in front of them as a team, even in the slightest way, I did not at all believe that Alex and Emily is a real couple who has gone through a lot. More than halfway through, it becomes clear that they are caricatures who belong in a low-grade sitcom, not in a feature film. They are not worth our time and attention.

The performances are a bore, a slog to have to sit through. Scott tries too hard to make us feel that his character is an ordinary Joe with self-esteem issues. The problem is, he looks too tense; an ordinary Joe is more relaxed—especially with his appearance. Schilling has an annoying habit of giving out these crazy wide eyes as if she were on a comedy show signaling the audience to laugh. Scott and Schilling share no chemistry. Schwartzman, meanwhile, does his usual affected demeanor—nothing new or effective there. Godrèche is perhaps the most charming but her character has no dimension, no quality we can really hold onto and root for.

“The Overnight” is probably for thirty-something-year-old, sexually-repressed-but-in-denial-about-it parents who have no Internet or television and so they have a warped sense of what real thirty-something-year-old parents are like in the suburbs of modern America. There is nothing funny or interesting about it. Mr. Brice, what is your intention here? Please explain to me as if I had no advanced education because I felt that my time had been stolen.