Children and horror often go hand-in-hand; sometimes kids are the conduit for evil, others can see ghosts, and in The Shining, the hand-holding is literal. The sub-genre of parents who are at their wits’ end because of supernatural occurrences impacting their family includes classics such as The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as the more recent Insidious and Conjuring franchises. Joining these ranks is The Prodigy, a psychological horror, which debuted in theaters February 8, as Sarah (Taylor Schilling) becomes increasingly concerned about the behavior of her young son Miles (Jackson Robert Scott).
The matching blue dresses of the Grady twins in The Shining and Regan MacNeil’s (Linda Blair) Exorcist bedgown are iconic scary movie costume moments, pieces which visually juxtapose the innocence of children with the horrific scenarios they have found themselves in. In any other situation, young twins wearing the same childlike frock wouldn’t be creepy — well, not that creepy — but in the Overlook Hotel, it epitomizes the horrors that are about to come.
Ashton is a big fan of horror — her favorite is actually The Shining — but this was her first time working on a horror movie. However, she did not alter her research or preparation methods, as genre does not define how she approaches a script. “It is all character driven with me. I build their character," Ashton noted. “I do my own biography. That is how I normally work. And then I breathe life into them.” She added that the family unit, particularly the relationship between mother and son, is what leaped off the page.
It may also be Orange is the New Black star Taylor Schilling’s first foray into scary movie territory, but her young co-star Jackson Robert Scott is becoming quite the horror veteran — he previously played young Georgie Denbrough in the recent It remake.
For Miles, it was important to highlight his childlike sensibilities through costuming. “I wanted everybody to fall in love with this little boy and I wanted everything that happens in this film to be so unexpected,” noted Ashton. The disturbing behavior is at odds with Sarah's maternal instincts and the audience should identify with this dilemma. The clothing Miles wears acts as a reminder that he is just a child; if he was too stylish, then there might not be the same impact.
The sleeper-style footie pajamas were something Ashton was keen on acquiring, but they were only available in smaller sizes. Unfortunately, Scott is older than this particular bedwear style is typically made for, so Ashton had to improvise by buying the largest size available, followed by remaking the garment so it fit the actor. This specific style was important to Ashton’s vision of the “image of a child in little pajamas with little feet — it just brought him innocence and I wanted to keep him as innocent as possible.”
However, another production obstacle had to be overcome as the clothing required didn’t match the season of garments available in Toronto stores, where The Prodigy was shot. Winter attire had already been switched out for summer. “We were chasing the trucks with all the clothing to actually get this sweater,” Ashton laughed, as she explained the dash for this key garment. Cable knit is pretty innocuous, and there’s nothing particularly evil looking about it — it was what helped make Mrs. Voorhees seem so unsuspecting when introduced in the original Friday the 13th. The sartorial serial killer vibes or evil aesthetic are not often associated with cozy sweaters.
The goal for Ashton was for Miles to not be another creepy kid at the start of the film; she wanted to “try to keep him as real, so you fell in love with him. And you were able to be a part of his mother’s struggle in keeping her child safe.”
Halloween costumes can also go in any number of directions, but as with the rest of the costume design, Ashton wanted to keep this look simple to help ground the action. You can't get much more classic than a skeleton, even if this one has a slightly different design twist with a half painted face. In fact, the half-painted skeleton face is a concept Ashton presented in her Prodigy interview. As she told us, “I wanted to keep his costume very basic; it wasn't something ordered from a big Halloween place. It came from a mother going to a store and buying a very simple skeleton costume. I wanted it real so it could play, again, the innocence of him.”
Another reason for Sarah’s simple muted, but warm tones is so the audience isn’t distracted by the clothing. The action swings between what is logical and supernatural, and as this line blurs, the costuming helps ground the story, “I wanted with the action and everything else, to actually be the story and not about the clothing. Keeping it simple and real,” said Ashton.
When asked about her favorite costumes, Ashton chose the aforementioned striped sleeper suit with the image of a moose, but there are some surprises up her sleeve. To save us from spoilers, she instead teased what to look out for: “a T-shirt we made for Miles. This special T-shirt reveals who or what Miles really is.”
The striped sleeper suit also features on these brilliantly creepy limited edition retro-style posters, which does a good job of highlighting why Ashton was so keen on having Miles in it to begin with. It is the perfect balance of unnervingly creepy and cute. As with the twins in Thie Shining and The Omen's Damien, Miles has a look of childlike innocence, even if there is something much more insidious going on. Cute clothing can only mask what lies beneath for so long.
The Prodigy is now playing in theaters.