March 21, 2017
If you did not know about the 2007 bestselling novel written by Canadian writer William P. Young, there is nothing attractive about the title of this film at all. "The Shack" as a title was so plain and nondescript, I thought it would B-horror movie, like "The Cabin in the Woods" or "The Last House on the Left." Of all things, I did not expect that this would be a religious film, and quite an enlightening one at that.
Mackenzie Phillips recovered well from his abused childhood to have a picture-perfect family of his own. However, one day, his youngest daughter Missy goes missing during a camping trip and was presumed dead. This tragedy filled Mack with such extreme despondence and fury, he struggled with his daily life. Mack meets three mysterious strangers living in a shack in the forest who endeavor to help him cope and move on.
Earlier this year, "Collateral Beauty" tackled the same story, but had a more secular fantasy approach to it. "The Shack" had a religious approach to the same problem and knowing this beforehand prepares you for the messages it delivers. Expect the acting from the cast to be effusively positive. Expect this to be sentimental and melodramatic. Expect beautiful profound words of wisdom and counsel. It is easy to label the script by John Fusco as schmaltz. However, when you view this with the proper attitude, you will hear words of inspiration and illumination, as this film was intended to be appreciated.
While Sam Worthington did well in the lead role of Mack, he does not really do anything to make a distinguishable mark in his performance. Worthington is an actor who remains to be unremarkable for me despite his many starring roles in big films before such as "Avatar" (2009) and more recently "Everest" (2015). In other rather fine but rather unexceptional performances, Radha Mitchell plays Mack's supportive wife Nan, and Tim McGraw plays Mack's best friend Willie.
The ubiquitous Octavia Spencer plays Papa, or God the Father, in a radical casting choice since Alanis Morrisette's played God in "Dogma" (1999). If Worthington has an indistinct face, Spencer in contrast, is very distinct. She plays Papa in a relaxed yet authoritative manner, motherly actually. She is good as always, but this is much like how she acts in her other films, like "Hidden Figures" and "Allegiant." I preferred the way Graham Greene played Papa in another incarnation within the film, to guide Mack through a more difficult challenge he had to face.
Aviv Alush, in his Hollywood debut, is the first Israeli actor to play Jesus in an English-language film. He played him to be a friendly guy-next-door, someone you can run on water with. In her first feature film, Japanese model-actress Sumire was absolutely sublime as the Holy Spirit. I liked the way she delivered her lines with gentle grace, and how she was made to shimmer when she moved. Brazilian actress and Sonia's niece Alice Braga (who first got noticed for her role in "City of God" back in 2002) had strong screen presence as God's Wisdom who put Mack through his first wringer.
In the treatment by director Stuart Hazeldine, the Christian concepts took on a New Age feel. The Persons of God had a hippie vibe in their clothes, words and actions, like a throwback to colorful flower power in the 1970s. Appreciation of this film will be based on the viewer's faith, specifically Christian faith. Atheists, agnostics and strict biblical fundamentalists may consider its ideas to be ridiculous and this film boring or absurd, yes. However, I personally believe that most faithful Christians will be able to connect and fully embrace the healing spirit of forgiveness and surrender to the Lord that this film espouses. 7/10.