Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Cast: Sam Worthington, Radha Mitchell, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw, Megan Charpentier, Gage Munroe, Amélie Eve, Avraham Aviv Alush, Alice Braga, Graham Greene
Runtime: 2 hrs 13 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Mature Content)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/theshackmovie/
Opening Day: 6 April 2017
Synopsis: Based on the New York Times best-selling novel, The Shack takes us on a father's uplifting spiritual journey. 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 (Octavia Spencer). Through this meeting, Mack finds important truths that will transform his understanding of his tragedy and change his life forever.
Ask any parent, and he or she will tell you that the thought of losing his or her child is indescribable, the pain immeasurable and perhaps even the torment irreconcilable. Ask any Christian, and the most difficult element of the faith is to overcome personal loss or suffering, especially that of a loved one. How can one hold on to the notion that God is good and all-seeing, when he allows something tragic to happen to someone completely innocent? How can one accept that it was part of God’s plan? How can one continue to trust God? In that sense therefore, Mack Philips’ disillusionment, anger and resentment at God is completely understandable, having lost his youngest daughter Missy (Amelie Eve) while on a camping trip with his three children. Abducted by a serial killer known to the police as the ‘Little Ladykiller’, Missy’s body remains missing, her bloodied red dress found in an abandoned shack in the woods the only sign of what happened to her after she was taken.
Based on the 2007 New York Times bestselling novel by Canadian author William P. Young, ‘The Shack’ follows Mack’s journey of healing at the very shack after receiving a mysterious note in his mailbox signed by someone named ‘Papa’, inviting him to return to the place where Missy was presumed to have been murdered. There, he encounters God in the form of the Trinity – God the Father, or Papa, is portrayed by Octavia Spencer as a figure of maternal warmth; God’s son, Jesus, is played by Israeli actor Avraham Aviv Alush as a friendly guy-next-door; and the Holy Spirit, Sarayu, is personified by Japanese model-actress Sumire as a reserved lady with grace and sublimity. Intentionally structured as a weekend encounter, Mack will spend the next three days engaging in challenging conversations with all three manifestations of the Almighty one by one, joined at one point by God’s wisdom (in the form of Brazilian actress Alice Braga) as a woman he meets in a cave.
Fans of the book will be glad to know that this adaptation by a trio of screenwriters – John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton – remains faithful to its source, right down to its prologue that establishes Mack’s traumatic childhood as a Midwestern farm kid who was abused by his alcoholic father, and decided to run away from home at the age of 13 after placing poison into his father’s beer bottles (though it is never clear if that turns fatal). Unfolding as a series of vignettes each intended to help Mack come to terms with the tensions he experiences in respect to either God or the circumstances, there is no plot per se, so those looking for drama in the conventional sense of the word will likely emerge puzzled why nothing really happens to Mack over the course of the movie; rather, this is through and through a series of debates centred around God and the Christian perspective to some of the unfathomable truths of life.
So in succession, Mack will hear from Papa about trust in God and how that trust is paramount in understanding the nature of God; step into a beautiful but messy garden with Sarayu, where he will be challenged about mankind’s judgments of good and evil and see his soul as well as that of his fellow men as being “in process”; demonstrate his faith in God by walking on a lake with Jesus; recognise the difference between God and Man’s judgment of people; and last but not least see the world as God sees in a beautiful spectacle of different lights and colour against a darkened sky. In the process, Mack will also come to realise that God does not endorse the evil that happens in this world but as an inevitable consequence of free will. Finally, Mack will be invited to not only forgive Missy’s killer and let go of the hate and hurt inside of him but also love him in spite of what the latter has done, as God does with each and every one of his creations despite their sinfulness.
Even though ‘The Shack’ is rooted in the understanding of God in the Christian faith, it probably won’t pass muster by strict doctrinal teachings – and indeed, in the decade since the book has been published, it has been accused of being heretical and devoid of Biblical grounding. As much as these points of contention (such as its notion of universal salvation) have been toned down in the movie to avoid controversy even among its target audience, Christian fundamentalists will no doubt still find its ideas discordant with their own deeply held beliefs. Equally, there’s no pretending that atheists and agnostics need not apply, for what it says even about healing and forgiveness will likely be dismissed as Christian hokum. But for the average Christian we suspect, not only will Mack’s crisis of faith be perfectly relatable, so too will be the appreciation of God as friend, comforter and confidante amidst our deepest sorrows.
It is really no use measuring ‘The Shack’ against conventional yardsticks of good moviemaking; at its core, this is simply a visualisation of the bestselling novel of the same name. On director Stuart Hazeldine’s part, he has casted the movie well (especially with Octavia Spencer as Papa) and turned Mack’s retreat into a lush Edenic paradise. On actor Sam Worthington’s part, he captures somewhat just adequately the pain, grief and anguish of a parent who has lost his child. But really, ‘The Shack’ is best appreciated as an invitation for Christian believers to renew their faith just before Easter, especially for those who are going through some personal suffering that has resulted in distance or alienation from God. More than other Christian-themed movies like ‘Courageous’ or ‘Facing the Giants’, it is a lot more straightforward in confronting the hard truths of the faith – and to the extent that it acknowledges without dismissing the difference between what man perceives and how God works, makes it potentially more transformative and uplifting.
(Intended for Christian believers, this series of conversations between a grieving parent and the Trinities of God about suffering, trust and the essence of faith itself is honest, comforting and uplifting)
Review by Gabriel Chong