In 2024, every person on the planet passes out for three minutes, and a strange, shimmering light touches down in the woods. A few years on, and no plausible cause has been determined for the incident. Some people have taken the blackout and light as a sign of the end times, others see it as a form of first contact, and only one person had visions of both happening and tried to warn folks.
Caleb (Embry Johnson) is a 15-year-old who’s been experiencing unexplained visions since he was a toddler. For a number of years now, Caleb has been under the supervision of the United States government. However, he will only speak about his new revelation with one person; his father Erik (Cory Kays). The snag is that Erik is drinking his life away, ever since Emily (Adrianne White), Erik’s wife/ Caleb’s mom, died; not to mention that Erik and Caleb haven’t spoken in years. However, the government comes knocking and offers to generously compensate the indebted father if Erik can get his son to shed light on what will be happening and when.
However, Caleb wants Erik to break him out of the government facility. Erik only agrees because Caleb is able to accurately describe the recurring dreams of Emily he’s been having lately. Now, the father and son team are on the run from the government and must make it to the woods by a specific date and time, for Caleb to fully comprehend his latest vision.
“…offers to generously compensate the indebted father if Erik can get his son to shed light on what will be happening and when.”
While writer-director Nathan Leon’s Prodigy does have shades of science-fiction and contains several thriller elements, it is a familial drama. Once they break out, it is a road trip movie, of sorts, with the estranged family members getting to know each other and cope with whom each person has become in the intervening years. They discuss what they remember about Emily or how the world has come to its current states. The dialogue comes across as natural and truthful, and the actors play off each other well.
Along the way, they meet a friendly waitress, Maya (Hailey Henry) who is a member of a cult-like group who believes Caleb is a prophet of some kind. This adds a cumbersome extra step into the story. For one, exactly what Caleb saw and how he tried to warn people about the first two events is not adequately established enough for this cult to make much sense. The bigger issue though, is how it adds unnecessary drama to the proceedings. See, one of the members turns in Caleb to the federal authorities, and this forces them to run earlier than expected. Considering they were going to be leaving that spot already and the armed forces are already searching for them, what was accomplished with this? A character the audience has known briefly turns out to be a liar. That is all. It is an odd interruption of the main story that only serves to pad out the runtime.
“…has a lot of great elements working in its favor.”
However, Prodigy has a lot of great elements working in its favor. The cinematography by Michael Street is exquisite, offering a wondrous looking film. There are long, painterly shots of Erik and Caleb walking through the woods, which build up an ethereal atmosphere. The editing adds quite nicely to the same mysteriously divine ideas at play, while Misha Segal’s score is uplifting and haunting at the same time.
Plus the acting is superlative. Embry Johnson is outstanding as the teenager with powers he never wanted. He plays Caleb with the right amount of assuredness to assert that the visions are real, but also just goofy enough that he does come across as someone still discovering who he is. Cory Kays brings pathos to Erik that resonates with the viewer, and his redemptive arc is well handled. Hailey Henry is confident and fun as the helpful waitress.
Prodigy has a subplot that stops the main action for a few unneeded diversions, but writer-director Nathan Leon’s heart is in the right place. The main story, of a son with powers, a father at the end of his rope, and a world in turmoil is fascinating. Add in the excellent technical elements and spot-on acting, and you get a movie that, despite its flaws, is entirely worth your time.
Prodigy (2018) Directed by Nathan Leon. Written by Nathan Leon. Starring Cory Kays, Embry Johnson, Hailey Henry, Arianne White, Brian Tyrell, Jeffrey Arrington.
8 Gumi Bears (out of 10)