Media Matters: The Shack (2017, Rated: PG-13)
The Shack (2017, Rated: PG-13)
Based on William P. Young’s controversial novel, The Shack stars erstwhile next-big-thing Sam Worthington as Mack, a father drowning in grief and barely veiled rage after the kidnapping and murder of his young daughter. When he finds a mysterious note left in his mailbox inviting him to come and spend the weekend with God himself at the shack where his daughter was killed, Mack at first assumes it is some kind of sick prank or perhaps even a ploy to lure him into a trap, but he makes his way there anyway, determined to know the truth. At the site, hemeets a man claiming to be Jesus and two women, one the Holy Spirit and the other God the Father incarnate.
Even just writing that last sentence feels weird. It’s easy to see why some Christians balked as book’s popularity catapulted it to #1 on The New York Times’ best-seller list and why some now are crying blasphemy and calling for a boycott. On the other end of the spectrum, secular entertainment journalists on both coasts malign the film as drivel pitched solely to the lowest common denominator in flyover country. Though I don’t really feel prepared to discuss the theological aspects of the picture, I can confidently tell you that the movie itself is not nearly as inept as some of its sneering reviews would have you believe. In fact, this is the most competently constructed faith-based movie I’ve ever seen. Much of the credit belongs to Worthington, the ever-reliable Radha Mitchell as his wife, and bona fide powerhouse Octavia Spencer as the Great I Am. (Yep, still weird.)
Of course, I am sort of damning this thing with faint praise. After all, calling it the best faith-based film ever produced doesn’t mean much when its peers have consistently set the bar so low. The Shack still falls into the same melodramatic rut such things usually do by trading in any notion of subtlety for on-the-nose narration and Chicken Soup of the Soul-style platitudes. Elements of the story are far too dark to label the whole saccharine (though the content itself is restrained, thematically this is much more a story for parents than kids), but there are still parts that are sufficiently over the top to make you feel emotionally manipulated.
The main body of the work is essentially one long conversation broken up into dozens of episodic encounters between Mack and the persons and attributes of God. I’m sure this worked better in the book, but it is not the most exciting cinematic setup. The bigger problem is that it doesn’t really make sense, or at least it didn’t to me. I have to wonder if the screenwriters knew that the people most likely to see the movie are those who have already read the novel and used that as an excuse to make this the Cliff Notes version of the story. Even at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there simply isn’t enough screen time for Mack’s emotional journey to realistically unfold. Try as I might, I could never work out how the supernatural nuggets of cat poster wisdom doled out every ten minutes carried Mack from despair to bitterness to acceptance and then love, hope, and forgiveness.
Caution Rating: 7