When I watched the trailer, I was intrigued. The premise of a battle of wits between a psychologist and a little girl seemed interesting. So I was tentatively hopeful. I’ve watched a fair number of independent films and not all of them live up to their promise. After watching the film, I can say this definitely does and is the best of what makes independent films great. The story is taut, the acting is stellar, and the special effects were perfect.
This film, written and directed by Alex Haughey and Brian Vidal, is a beautiful example of how independent film can bring great stories by paring down the set and focusing on the characters as well as the narrative. The film is a brilliant science fiction intrigue starring Richard Neil as James Fonda, a psychologist who is brought in to work with a young girl, a genius, Eleanore (Savannah Liles). He engages her in a battle of wits, unaware that she possesses supernatural abilities and that her life is on the line. He soon learns otherwise, from his friend Olivia (Jolene Andersen) who’s brought him in because she knows that he’s Ellie’s last chance.
Jimmy battles both Ellie and the team working with her, Colonel Birch (Emilio Palame), psychiatrist Keaton (David Linski). This also includes Werner (Harvey Q. Johnson) who is intent on studying Ellie and Ryan (Aral Gribble) who handles the controls within the room where the pair vie. But will Dr. Fonda break through Ellie’s lack of emotion or will she manipulate him?
The truth is this movie is so incredibly insightful and well designed. While I can’t give away too much of the story without spoiling it, it is one of the best science fiction thrillers I’ve seen. The set is deliberately kept sparse, keeping the focus on the story, much like is done in the first Saw film. The cast is kept small but it is a talented cast that is able to give the performance the story demands. Items used early on in the film are important in later scenes. Even the opening clip is important to the resolution of the story.
As I mentioned, the set is streamlined and the cast small. This not only keeps the concentration on the two main characters vying but also gives the film room for the effects it needs to show off Ellie’s powers. The writing builds to the scenes and when it begins, its small but used just enough to show what she is capable of and the risk factor for the psychologist Fonda. The scenes are tense with the dialogue driving the story, creating the thriller effect.
I also have to give kudos to the director, Alex Haughey. He pulled a compelling performance from Savannah Liles. She is equal amounts creepy, emotionless with just enough nuance to see the hints of her true emotions behind the facade. Both she and Richard Neil are magnetic when they’re in the room together and it is impossible to look away from the two of them as their characters struggle verbally. Richard Neil is warm and empathetic, his character showing subtle signs of emotion and pain. Savannah is incredible. The tiny touches of emotion she shows, such as a sneer at an emotional connection or provoking Colonel Birch from behind glass make the character believable as a possible sociopath. The other actors, particularly Jolene Anderson, do an excellent job with their parts as well, giving us enough to show how they feel about Ellie and why they are making certain decisions in regards to her life. But truly, it is Savannah that makes this film as amazing as it. For one so young, her ability to show such subtlety in her acting makes her one to watch out for in the future.
If there is any tiny detraction, it is that the pacing is slow at the beginning of the film and that there is not a lot of action. Most of the film is driven by the dialogue, especially between Dr.Fonda and Ellie. But truthfully, that did not lessen the tension created and there is enough action when it is called for. The film is crafted to build to the stunning conclusion and it is worth the slow beginning.
If you like sci-fi with irresistible characters and clean special effects, with tension and drama that keep you on the edge of your seat, I truly recommend “Prodigy.” This is one of the best independent films I’ve seen. The cast and crew have done a brilliant job, keeping their focus on the story and with evocative, nuanced acting from both leads, Richard Neil and Savannah Liles. This is a film that I hope everyone who loves science fiction has the opportunity to watch.
Prodigy will be available on March 13 and can now be preordered on iTunes.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 straight jackets!
Alex Haughey, Brian Vidal
Alex Haughey, Brian Vidal
Richard Neil, Savannah Liles, Jolene Andersen, Emilio Palame, David Linski, Harvey Q. Johnson, Aral Gribble