Even on the best of days, faith is a complicated thing.
Based on the self-published novel of the same name, The Shack is an interesting but incredibly flawed exploration of issues of faith that goes to some unexpectedly dark places and extends itself much farther than it really should have gone but at least manages to make it something more of a personal experience rather than getting too churchy with it.
In the aftermath of a family tragedy that cost Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) the life of his youngest daughter he finds himself spiraling into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Confronted with a crisis of faith, and truly nowhere to turn he receives a mysterious letter urging him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness with hopes of salvation. Despite his doubts and confronted with the possibility of maybe finally facing his daughter’s killer, Mack journeys to the shack and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa (Octavia Spencer), the same name that his daughter used to call God. Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever.
This movie is a mess, but at least it is an interesting mess as The Shack is an overlong effort filled with logic jumps and questionable story devices but it does allow for issues of faith and grief to be presented in a way that is at the very least humanistic and sloppy as all hell.
With his first feature in eight years, director Stuart Hazeldine loses the reins on this one pretty early on as it drifts all over the map showing us glimpses of Mack’s back story and what led him to his experiences with his family and it all comes together a little too loosey goosy and serves as proof that some novels are simply incapable of being translated to the silver screen. It looks pretty but it doesn’t mean a whole lot until Mack hits the cabin in the woods which takes up a huge chunk of the movie. The writing team spearheaded by Daniel Destin Cretton (whose Short Term 12 is a 1000 times better than this) feels disjointed with too many cooks in the kitchen. It bounces from having a strong structure, to being an absolute mess and back again and gets to be tiring and more than a little confusing. Granted it does do an effective job of bringing up issues of faith and grief; highlighting how there truly is no right way to deal with the kind of loss that Mack and his family have endured but this gets lost in a movie that is never quite sure where it is supposed to be going. On the page, we as readers can fill in blanks and make emotional jumps where it is intimated, but on the screen an abstract idea like this can easily get lost no matter how important it is.
Sadly the material on the page just doesn’t do the actors involved a lot of favors on this one. Sam Worthington and his fluctuating American accent can’t emote his way out of this one while Radha Mitchell as his wife is just their and Tim McGraw as his best friend just doesn’t have enough experience as an actor to elevate the material. Octavia Spencer to her credit doesn’t overdo it as ‘Papa’ while Olivia Braga and Grahame Greene are barely there to begin with.
While it is somewhat of a compelling mess that will spark some debate after watching it; The Shack is still a mess that needed 20-30 minutes cut from it. You can skip this one.