Prodigy (2016) by Kansas City native Alex Haughey is a science-fiction drama. It stars Richard Neil and Savannah Liles, in her debut starring role. It has been billed as a blend of “personal drama and psychological thriller.” Young Ellie (Liles), who is blessed with a razor-sharp intellect, is pitted against non-traditional psychologist Dr. Fonda (Neil). As the two conduct mental combat, the truths and lies are revealed. While the movie makes an enthusiastic attempt at this genre-bending approach, it does fall short on some of its goals.
The film has been shown at some film festivals already including Cinequest and Sedona.
Some spoilers for Prodigy follow after the break.
The story is interesting: Ellie is held captive in a highly-secure shadow government facility. Accused of a crime, it falls upon Dr. Fonda to reason with her and discover the depths of her involvement with a murder. Time is running out: the government wants to euthanize Ellie and learn what gives her the astounding abilities she displays. Dr. Fonda has to work with his former colleague Olivia (Jolene Andersen) to unlock Ellie’s mysteries. In the stunning conclusion, many truths are revealed.
All in all, the film attempts to have a conversation about guilt and responsibility. Through much of the exposition, the characters expound greatly on personal choice, protection, and control. While it is a battle of the wits from the onset, it’s fairly clear that Ellie’s cold, calculating logic is outmatched by the more experienced, nuanced, and feeling Dr. Fonda. There is lesson here that only through understanding and acceptance of powerlessness can brute strength be overcome. It’s an interesting commentary on many social topics facing the world today.
However, there are some technical aspects with which I take issue. For one, the script. While the actors deliver good performances – and they seem to strengthen as it moved along – often times, they seemed to be locked into a very specific dialog. This “tell and not show” approach is a common hallmark of first-time filmmakers. In a way, it assumes that the viewer isn’t in on what’s going on so everything needs to be explained. But, it’s a little too much. Ellie’s lines were almost too sculpted; Liles’ performance was almost melodramatic. Perhaps a stylistic choice; however, it failed to engender any real empathy for her as a character. I found myself on numerous occasions asking “why do I care about this girl?” I found Dr. Fonda’s troubles far more interesting.
In the end, this was very solid attempt at starting a conversation about responsibility and grief. It had great sound, good editing, and (although a bit campy) serviceable performances.
I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars.
You can find more information on Prodigy on the film’s website here. The site includes information about the film, cast, a trailer, screening information, and a gallery of stills and behind the scenes photos.