– by Joseph Jammer Medina

Should a young person ever be sentenced to die, no matter how atrocious their crime, or how dangerous they could be to the future of mankind? Is it possible to bring a lost cause over to the side of light? These are the questions that the upcoming film Prodigy asks.

The film follows psychologist James Fonda, who is recruited by a secret branch of the military to take on a very special case. As expected, this patient isn’t exactly normal, but even James’ wide breadth of experience couldn’t prepare him for the nine-year-old genius that is Ellie. What ensues is a battle of wits between a man and a murderer. Is it truly too late to save her, or will he be able to break through that tough exterior and prove, despite any atrocities, that she’s still just a little girl?

This indie film comes from writer and directing duo Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, and was made for a shoestring budget of less than $100,000. With that in mind, it’s hard not to at least ask: does it look like a cheap movie? In short, I’d say no. While the film is very clearly made for much less than your average studio affair, it still manages to look well above its budget. If you’d asked me cold, I would have guessed it was made for about a couple million dollars, which is no small feat. The main contributing factor to this is its script and setting, which restricts it to a handful of locations.

RELATED – Prodigy Interview: Co-Director Alex Haughey On Creating The Low-Budget Psychological Thriller

As you probably noticed, Prodigy has a very basic core premise to it, and unlike a lot of films, it really does focus almost solely on it, taking few detours to delve into anything outside of our main two characters. While some may find this a bit disappointing and shallow (the supporting characters do suffer a bit, as a result), I do think it ultimately works in the film’s favor. Whereas others may work to stretch to hit the two-hour mark, this one is content to come in at a lean 80-minute runtime. The result is a film that, despite its limited setting, manages to keep things going at such a pace that I never found myself looking at the clock as I watched.

On a macro scale, the story is very well-structured. James Fonda is a sympathetic lead, and in theory, the dynamic between him and Ellie works well enough. The tension fittingly amps up, and it all results in a payoff that, by all accounts, should work, and for many, it might. But for this writer, it doesn’t quite manage to live up to its potential. Based on its premise and characters, there was a certain texture and veracity that was I hoping to get that was never really there.

Yes, the script is well-structured for maximum efficacy, but the dialogue in the script leans heavily on clichés — so much to the point where it became easy to predict specific lines. As such, it became a bit distracting, and ultimately made the characters feel flatter than I would have hoped. The character who suffered most from this, to me, was Ellie. While the young actress, Savannah Liles, does an admirable job with the role, her lines felt more like things the writers thought smart character would say, rather than them actually feeling like legitimate things a smart character would say. There seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between reality and the film, as if it were more influenced by other films than by their own unique vision or their own life experiences.

This is an issue I had with the writing all-around, and while it doesn’t result in a bad film, it does keep it from performing at its maximum potential. It makes a lot of the lines ring false.

All the same, this was a movie that kept me entertained throughout, and as the story went on, there were enough carrots dangling in front of me for me to want to keep going. Plus, perhaps more importantly, when I got to the end, it wasn’t a journey I had regretted going on. This may sound like faint praise, but it’s a fact that should count for something.

Perhaps more than anything else, Prodigy really shows what can be done with a contained setting, an interesting premise, and a lean runtime. If you’re someone who’s interested in taking a stab at your own film, it’s certainly one to watch.

Grade: C+

Prodigy is available to pre-order on iTunes NOW!

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.