The Shack, C
Rated PG-13, 132 minutes
God can take many forms, and in the engaging but overlong new faith-based film, “The Shack,” based on the 2007 best-selling novel from William Young, he takes the form of a folksy, non-judgmental Oprah-like character who likes to chat over a good meal. There are a few heartwarming moments and it has stronger production values than some in this genre, but its obvious spiritual metaphors and redundancies go on too long.
After suffering a family tragedy, Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) spirals into a deep depression causing him to question his innermost beliefs. Facing a crisis of faith, he receives a mysterious letter urging him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Despite his doubts, Mack journeys to the shack and encounters an enigmatic trio of strangers led by a woman named Papa (Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer). Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever.
The likable yet predictable “The Shack” is directed by British filmmaker Stuart Hazeldine with a script from John Fuzco (“Narcos”) based on Young’s novel and comes with an appealing cast and a solid, heartfelt message, though its new-agey, Oprah-esque optimism and manipulation seem a little overdone. As the God figure named Papa, following in the footsteps of fellow Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman (“Bruce Almighty”) and George Burns (“Oh, God!”), Spencer is the most memorable, and she steals scenes from bland lead Worthington.
The middle act is most sluggish, as Mack spends time at The Shack with The Trinity – Papa, Jesus (Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit figure Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara), working through his issues and the loss of his young girl, becoming pals with Jesus as they walk on water together (“it’s better if you do that with me,” he tells Mack). On the downside, some details of the script are murkier and unexplained – is he actually in Heaven or a purgatory pre-Heaven place (and Spencer inexplicably appears early on) – not to mention it wants to tie everything nicely together with a happy ending that seems a little too disconnected from the real world.
The handsome, Canadian-shot film has both uplifting moments and some heartbreaking ones: when the main character must fully let go of his daughter, you’ll need some tissues, but you may roll your eyes each time Spencer’s Papa says trite things like “I was always fond of you” and “I love you more than you know.” Everyone’s journey – spiritual or not – is packed with all sorts of moments – and “The Shack” seems to gloss over the bad ones by saying it will eventually get better.
Unlike most films in this faith-based genre, “The Shack” is admirable for its decent production values and a less preachy tone, but like those films, it lacks solid storytelling that tends to speak mostly to believers. It has good intentions, but sometimes you need more than a pat on the back to make it through life.