Since Hank and the Captain are taking Brightburn this week for reviews, I thought I would take a look at another “creepy kid” horror picture that also came out this year – though I didn’t really hear much about it after the creepy first trailer.
Before we jump into the film, I wanted to talk briefly about the “creepy kid” (as I like to call them) horror subgenre. The idea of children/a child being “evil” can be traced back as far back into film history as 1956’s The Bad Seed. And, throughout the decades, we have always been treated to a “killer child” feature or two, such as, The Brood (1979), Children of the Corn (1984), The Good Son (1993), and even Orphan (2009).
What is it about children turning evil that scares us so much? Why is the thought of an everyday child or group of children committing a heinous act (s) so alien to us? And why does this formula and this concept continue to be repeated throughout the years?
Well, even though I have a degree in psychology, I won’t claim to be the expert on fears, the human condition or the human mind, but I think it has something to do with the way that many/most adults view children – as innocent creatures that have yet to experience real hardship or true disillusionment.
In addition, childhood is typically seen as a worry-free time of innocence and discovery. It is a time when we grow, learn and discover ourselves and our values and, while it comes with ups and downs certainly, is typically considered at least a pleasant time.
So, what does this have to do with horror films or the tried-and-true concept of a killer child? The best horror films and stories play with universal themes and ideas of what humans are afraid of: Death (We Go On) Darkness (Lights Out) Sexually Transmitted Diseases (It Follows) Birth and Motherhood (Alien & Aliens)
The loss of innocence of a child (an innocent being) or a child being completely devoid of empathy and/or purity plays to an ingrained sense of dread in us, as that is so far removed from what we expect from a young person.
This is something to keep in mind as you are writing your next horror masterpiece: what is a universal fear or a universal theme that you can explore and represent in a new, unique way that has not been done before?
The answer is not always easy (if it was, everyone would be a screenwriter!) but is vital if you are crafting a horror story. It is important to watch films in the genre and not just to watch them, but to always watch critically and analytically – so you can mentally digest the tropes, the tone, what worked, what didn’t work, etc. and then use that in your own writing.
This is a long-winded way to say that the “killer kid” story/theme/trope is one that has been used in literature, film and television to unsettle and scare us and it is not going anywhere anytime soon.
If you can think of a new take, a new twist or new direction to take this concept, more power to you and you are certainly on the right track to getting your script greenlit!
Now, what did I think of The Prodigy?
It was creepy when the toddler got out of his crib and started speaking in tongues.
The babysitter stepping on a piece of glass protruding from the stairs in bare feet was pulled directly from A Quiet Place, but it is still effective and makes you cringe.
Man, the kid taking a wrench and beating his classmate senseless with it was brutal! (Though I have to say, it did seem to come out of nowhere – I mean, surely the kid has felt anger before, did he take a wrench to anyone who ticked him off from grades 1 – 4?)
I like the character beat that the dad had a physically abusive father when he was young and is afraid of turning into that kind of monster.
This is good because it makes the character feel more real and lived-in and it gives him a legitimate plot-driven reason to separate himself from the proceedings/rest of the film (he’s afraid he will hurt Miles when Miles starts acting… even weirder than usual)
I like the paranoia that begins to set in early as the parents discover that something is wrong with Miles – I wish it was played up more, but I liked the doctor saying “Don’t trust anything your son says.”
What Needs Work
Several jumpscare moments right at the beginning.
I do feel as if the time jumps were strange and felt disjointed – I think we should have started at one point in time and just had hints and minor dialogue mentions to what they showed: like the kid is advanced, he was developing quickly, he likes to kill bugs, etc.
This speaks to a larger issue (which is a stylistic choice and my subjective opinion) but we seem to jump around a lot – it makes everything feel disconnected and like we are missing important chunks of the story and character development.
In the beginning of this film, it feels like we are treading some well-worn territory – they just don’t seem to be doing anything that we haven’t seen done before.
I don’t really have a sense of who the parents are besides overprotective mom and “fun” dad.
Why does Miles have a tape recorder right next to his bed? It just feels convenient so that the mom can grab it off of the dresser and record his weird “nighttime speech”
The kid whispering “Go f–k yourself” in his sleep was more humorous than scary.
Miles’ (the kid) therapist is pretty quick to call her “crazy reincarnation” buddy to listen to the recording of the Miles speaking in another language. I’m just saying, maybe first call a colleague who doesn’t think the soul of a serial killer is possessing children… or any other colleague for that matter.
Actually, wasn’t this the plot of Annabelle? And Chucky?
Of course the parents are scared of this kid – he is always acting sinister and saying creepy stuff – never once does he smile or do anything that’s not “serial-killer-y”
Man, the one effective scare (seen in the trailer) of Miles running down the hall towards his mother and then morphing into a grown man right before he reaches her and tackling her is actually just a dream sequence… and we all know how I feel about dream sequences…
So, your son is acting creepy and experiencing violent behaviors and your reaction is to take him to an old man’s house (an old man you have only met once before) and let the old man spend time alone with your young son in order to “hypnotize’ the demons out of him?
I didn’t buy it, though I do like that Miles mentions it and uses it against the “doctor” to make him leave and stop trying to get the serial killer out of Miles and leave the family alone.
Also, this character totally disappears without a trace after about the midpoint.
It takes an extremely long time for the mom to figure out what “Miles” (the serial killer inside of Miles) wants – it was obvious from the start and really should have been the first thing that came to mind.
You don’t want your audience to be so far ahead of the characters that every story beat just feels like filler until you get to the “reveal”
By the way, if you think too hard about any of the plot points or character decisions in this film, they don’t really make sense or work.
For example: Why did the serial killer choose to come back in the baby’s body? If he wanted to kill someone, this would take a looooonnngggg time to get his revenge as he would first have to grow up and do things like learn his ABC’s and toilet train before he is ready to exact his revenge.
Once you know what Miles the Serial Killer’s goal is, none of his actions throughout the film make sense. For example, beating a kid with a wrench during school hours with tons of witnesses around for no reason would very likely get him locked up or sent away, which is counter to what Miles claims to have wanted all along.
And, of course, the blatant sequel set-up: Miles gets a foster family!
SKIP IT. This one was not an original take on the “killer kid” genre and did not seem interested in subverting any expectations or covering any new ground at all. Worst of all, this film was boring. I could see every plot point coming and it took a long time to get to where we were going and I checked the clock several times, waiting for it to end.
If you are writing a similar horror project, maybe check this one out, just as an example of a beat-by-beat standard version of this type of tale, but there are definitely better examples to seek out.