Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
There are a few words I don't like to use as a film critic. They are words I find too often misused or inflammatory; they are used more for effect and due to emotional impulsiveness. However, every now and then, a film comes along and really tries my patience enough to make me pull out a word from my sacred bank and, today, that word is "propaganda," which accurately describes The Shack.
This film is a thoroughly loathsome guilt-trip that condescendingly tells the audience that if they can put their worries aside and disregard totally rational, natural fears, that God will forgive them and the ones they love. Anyone can do it. In addition, it's a story of a father who justifiably harbors hate and contempt for a man that has abducted and killed his daughter and he's told by heaven-sent representations of God, Jesus, and the holy spirit that this makes him a flaming hypocrite on the same playing field as the murderer who took his daughter from him. Most illogical.
But we're just getting started. The film revolves around Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), who is distraught and devastated by the kidnapping and subsequent murder of his daughter Missy (Amelie Eve). He let her out of his sight for just a few minutes when he rescued his other daughter and son after their canoe capsized in the middle of a lake, and the thought of his brief moment of negligence scars him and his family. Upon finding a note in his mailbox signed by "Papa" - his and his family's age-old nickname for God - accompanied by no footprints through the deep snow, Mack sets out by himself to a remote, ramshackle home that he used to vacation to many years back. He's encountered many spiritual journeys there and hopes another could follow suit after such calamity.
Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw
3 March 2017
Steve's Grade: D-
Upon arriving, he's transported to the land of milk and honey. A land filled with lovely, colorful flowers, amazing wilderness, and a gorgeous lake. He spends his time with Papa, played by Octavia Spencer, and then eventually Graham Greene with no explanation as to how God is two different people. He meets Jesus (Aviv Alush) and, after he teaches Mack how to walk on water, the two have a race across the lake. But it's not all good until Mack can forgive the man who took his daughter, in addition to his alcoholic father who so senselessly beat him and his mother.
The Shack prefers to sing kumbaya for over two hours and present simple answers to emotionally traumatic problems, brushing hands together after the fact and backpatting everyone in a self-congratulatory manner for their Christlike forgiveness, rather than offering anything significant in the way of authenticity. The thought that a man should be made obligated, much less morally coerced, to forgive a person who took his daughter from him in the most savage and disgusting ways is downright appalling. The justification used is the same used when Mack is shown that his abusive father was also abused by his father.
"Should we punish that little boy too?," the holy spirit asks Mack, upon showing him the faint event. No, let's forgive domestic and child abuse too. Let's disregard the free-will and choices a person has to be themselves and not a product of what made them flawed. It's not a big deal.
What should I have expected from a film that, within the first five minutes, juxtaposes a scene of Mack's father lashing his back with his belt in the pouring rain with the way Jesus suffered his fate at the hands of Romans? Or for that matter, a film that illogically shows Mack running alongside Jesus as the two walk on water? All of a sudden the regular souls have such awe-inspiring powers, as well? Critics of William P. Young's novel say the depiction of God as a black woman is heretical. Did they miss this?
Back to the film's lack of authenticity. Every scene feels like a carefully constructed post-card, tasked with giving the viewer heartwarming eye-candy for visuals while it addresses scary topics such as sin and eternal damnation in the safest possible way. The film has the same kind of artificiality in its visuals thatHeaven is for Real did, although its emotionally manipulative tactics are downplayed due to the fact that The Shack features such a nightmare of a narrative. Plot-threads are interwoven so much that they become tangled like a destroyed Slinky, leaving the only thing consistent with this film being its scenery, which nonetheless looks like it's been vomited from a green-screen.
The Shack is Christian propaganda of the highest order, and my ethos comes from sitting through four or five films of its variety in theaters every year. Whenever Hollywood tries to do a Christian movie, usually from a "safe" property, such as an adaptation of a New York Times Bestseller/record-breaker, they consistently seem to overdue it to the point where worthwhile actors like Worthington and Spencer might as well be mall-mannequins.
The Shack has touched the souls of millions, apparently, and I can understand why. It's a product of the all-smiles, New Age movement in religion peddled by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and prosperity pimps like Joel Osteen that will take all the dollars you send them in return for something that will keep you in a positive mood.
However, few films, even of this genre, have been so brazenly flawed and miscalculated, serving only as propaganda for peoples FAQs regarding religion. The devout or even those simply seeking some spiritual and social uplift deserve better then such treacly schlock like The Shack that can't even say the word "God."