Oh dear god. No, wait! That’s exactly what they want me say! Curse you, faith-based movies!
Well, I guess we’re not quite out of the schlock yet. This movie is, as I said, faith-based and looks beyond obnoxious. I mean, the first minute of the trailer doesn’t look bad. A man and his family go on a trip into the wilds, his daughter disappears, is later found dead, and he’s lost his connection with everyone around him… oh… oh no… that was the set-up of COLLATERAL BEAUTY (2016)! Oh my god, is this movie basically COLLATERAL BEAUTY, but with the teased supernatural elements?!
Shoot me now. Even if you were to take away the possible religious undertones, this movie looks like a cliché-fest. “I want to hurt him like he hurt me.” It looks hokey and not very interesting. Of course, this trailer practically gives away the entire movie. He’s going to find this magical place, struggle with his pain, take it out on forces that have nothing to do with what happened to him, reject the lessons being taught, and learn to find peace at the last minute. Am I right, film-makers? Am I right? Tell me I’m close.
Well let’s take a look at the blackmailed talent that got roped into this. Starring is Sam Worthington. Damn it, I really like this guy. I think he can be a good actor and has proven it before in such films as HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) and AVATAR (2009). But he keeps getting suckered into doing less than stellar movies like CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) and WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012). But because he’s got three Avatar sequels under his belt in the future, he probably doesn’t need any security blanket. Next, and this probably hurts more, Octavia Spencer. You’d think after being in HIDDEN FIGURES (2016), awe hell, after being in THE HELP (2011), that she’d be set up for all the best projects that Hollywood can throw out there. She’s amazing enough to warrant it. But no, damn INSURGENT (2015) and ALLEGIANT (2016) for holding her back. Oh well, maybe the upcoming GIFTED (2017) will bounce her back after this probable fall. Another hurt, although on a lesser level, is famed country singer, Tim McGraw. Not exactly known for being an acting heavy-hitter, having been in FLICKA (2006) and the far worse FOUR CHRISTMASES (2008), he has proven to have some talent as shown in TOMORROWLAND (2015) and THE BLIND SIDE (2009). I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that he’s in this, as a lot of country music is very much rooted in faith. Still, kinda hurts that he’s in something this obviously not good. In support, we have Radha Mitchell (LONDON HAS FALLEN , THE CRAZIES , and FINDING NEVERLAND ), and Alice Braga (THE DUEL , PREDATORS , and CITY OF GOD ).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Stuart Hazeldine, known for EXAM (2009). RED FLAG ALERT!!! Three writers: John Fusco, Andrew Lanham, and Destin Daniel Cretton. Fusco is known for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY (2016), THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (2008), and SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON (2002). Lanham is making his feature-film debut. Congrats, sir. Finally, Cretton is known for a bunch of short films. My guess is that Fusco did a bulk of the writing, as he’s the only one with a long career under his belt, and some pretty damn good works too. Or… enjoyable ones, anyway. But who knows, maybe they all had equal say in the script. Composing the music is Aaron Zigman, known for I SAW THE LIGHT (2016), THE OTHER WOMAN (2014), and MARTIAN CHILD (2007). Finally, the cinematographer is Declan Quinn, known for RICKI AND THE FLASH (2015), ADMISSION (2013), and RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (2008).
Overall, this movie looks like it’s going to blow. Maybe some of the talent can overshadow the sappiness, but I highly doubt it. I’m not looking forward to this, but… it sucks being a glutton for punishment.
This is my honest opinion of: THE SHACK
Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington) is a loving father of three and husband, living an average Christian life in suburbia, despite his rough and abused childhood. However, after taking his kids on a camping trip, his youngest daughter Missy (Amélie Eve) is abducted and found dead in an abandoned shack. Blaming himself for not keeping a better eye on her, he retreats into depression, questioning his already shaken beliefs. One day, he gets a letter in the mail, no stamp, no address, but urging him to visit the same shack that Missy was found dead in. Believing it’s the murderer, he steals his friend’s truck and leaves for the shack, but finds nothing and no one. Leaving with a profound sense of loss, he meets a stranger and takes him to a beautiful setting of the shack and meets none other than God (Octavia Spencer) and Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush), who attempt to help him through his grief.
As per usual in faith-based movies, religion is bludgeoned over your head, which is incredibly annoying if you’re not a religious person. And despite it’s very bright and upbeat tone, this movie thinks it can get away with dark-ass shit like a father abusing both his kid and his wife, whipping his kid’s back with a belt in the rain for hours. It’s really out of place and needless. This movie is already dealing with the subject of a murdered six-year-old girl. It doesn’t need anything in addition to that. In fact, I find anything relating to Mack’s father to be pointless as a whole. Leave out Mack’s backstory and just call him a skeptic who is married to a Christian woman. That happens. I… assume. There’s just nothing here that warrants that intense imagery.
In fact, right off the bat, I already know what changes I would have made. I would leave out Mack’s abused childhood, simply make him a skeptic married to a Christian woman, raising their kids to be good Christians and he only joins them to church because he loves his family, not God. Maybe he was raised to be religious, but never really took. This would have made it a little more universal to audiences, to both non-believers and the religious. But fine, if animated movies like ROCK DOG (2017) can be made just for kids and no adults are meant to like it, then I guess a Christian movie just for Christians and no one else can exist too. It’s just a shame that movies like this would limit themselves to a specific audience instead of branching out, trying to appeal to general masses.
But if I continue to rag on the very concept of the movie, I’d be here all day. So let’s talk about the movie itself, huh?
First problem is that Tim McGraw narrates this movie. Why? He’s not the main character and is certainly not in it for the majority of the running time. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Worthington narrate since he’s the, you know, main character?! Or better yet, and this is just the amateur screenwriter within myself, how about no narration at all? Movies are a visual medium of storytelling, so… show. Don’t tell. No scene that was narrated needed to be in the movie, or needed narration at all.
Now, to the movie’s credit, I do enjoy the acting. Mitchell usually turns in a good performance and Worthington carries the movie pretty well when he’s not directed poorly.
And for the love of God, will someone give Spencer an Oscar for existing? I don’t like this portrayal of God or what it represents, but Spencer as God is surprisingly entertaining. I mean, I couldn’t quote a line to save my life, but her presence, her attitude, her genuine attempt at saving this man’s soul, it’s really not bad as far as an acting job. But… as I said, I have many problems with this portrayal of God. First of all, I don’t wanna gripe about why Mack was chosen to have conversations with, but… why specifically him? There’s plenty of parents throughout history that go through what Mack is. Why don’t they warrant a visit? Or if they did, why isn’t this bigger news around the world? Why aren’t there headlines reading, “Man in California hung out with God for the weekend!” or “Woman in Brazil claims to be friends with God personally!” I don’t even think the motivation for visiting him was all that dire. “He got stuck in that shack.” Yeah, but he hasn’t left his family, he ain’t burning any Bibles or crosses, he’s depressed. That’s natural when you go through these things. Had he left his family over grief and took his anger out on religion more aggressively, then the personal call from the big one upstairs would be more understandable. But that’s not the case. He’s working through it like anyone else would. In fact, if it hadn’t been for that letter egging him to go to the shack, he wouldn’t have had that revolver he stole from Willie (Tim McGraw) and nearly pulled the trigger on himself. Way to almost be responsible for making a man kill himself! He would have really been screwed too because suicide is a one-way ticket to hell, if I’m not mistaken.
There’s also some serious cop-outs too. In this universe, it’s obviously establishing that God is real. Mack will say something like, “So you’re God. Unlimited power. Why didn’t you protect Missy?” God will not have an answer. God will tip-toe around the issue and spout something like, “I never left her.” Nope, I’m with Mack on this one. If God can interfere with his life, then there’s no reason why an interference with the death of this little girl couldn’t be done. I really think this is a cruel God being portrayed here.
And now for Jesus. Again, I rather enjoy Alush’s performance. I think he carries the role of Jesus pretty well and seems to have a fitting modern feel too him. Hell, there’s even a really good moment from him that’s still with me. “Religion? I don’t want followers. I want friends.” Honestly, that statement alone would have made a much better movie. The exploration of Jesus staring down on this modern world and rolling his eyes at organized religion as much as non-believers do, but never losing sight of his own love for God. Unfortunately, his role in the film is so limited by comparison to God and the Asian chick, which I’ll talk about in a second. He has an entire scene is so horribly written and is so nonsensical that I feel like most people would be ripping their hair out trying to understand anything that was said. But that’s just one scene and I don’t feel like raving about it.
What I do feel like raving about is the Asian chick, Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). Um… pardon my language, I try to keep my F-bombs in my reviews for R-rated films, but… I still don’t fucking know who Sarayu is! I mean, at first glance, I figured… the holy trinity: the father, the son, and the holy spirit. But… I don’t think that’s who Sarayu is. If that is who she’s supposed to be, they don’t tell you that. What they do tell you is that… she’s creativity. Um…. what?! No. No no no, I need a better explanation than that, movie. I swear, her only role in the story is to be the hot piece of ass to keep Mack around so if he tries to leave, she’s there to flash him a seductive smile and keep him around. I half expected Mack to have an affair with her, her mannerisms were so suggestive. And… with no offense to miss Matsubara, and perhaps this was a complete fault with direction, but she wasn’t a very good actress. Her physicality is almost like she’s a whimsical Disney character who smoked some seriously good marijuana. Beyond her borderline bizarre function in the story, Sarayu is completely forgettable. I can’t remember a single line. I truly believe that she could have been written out of the story and it would have progressed just fine.
And now for my final rant because… I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to air out this frustration with this movie. There’s too many to get through, so I’ll just settle with a tight fist and screaming into a pillow. My final rant is with the climax of the movie: getting Mack to forgive the man who killed his daughter. It plays out basically reminding him that he doesn’t have a right the judge a man. God’s telling him that the man who did this is still his child too, and he wants to help him. “I want to hurt him… like he hurt me!” “So we’re back to you being the judge.” Okay, look, being judgmental is wrong. Taking one look at something or someone and deciding that it’s bad or good without having any foreknowledge about it when some is needed and wholly believing that your limited knowledge is all you need to pass judgment, that’s wrong. HIS DAUGHTER WAS MURDERED!!! There is no well-adjusted human being that would blame Mack for passing judgment on one guy. Yet, this movie does that thing where it’s like, “Oh well who are you to be making judgments?” Oh my god, it’s not plural. Shut up. It’s judging one guy. Singular. Mack’s a depressed wreck, but he isn’t blaming the world for what happened to Missy, he’s blaming himself and the monster who killed his daughter. Calm the hell down. Some understanding would be appreciated.
But moving on. The whole purpose here, the big emotional and spiritual payoff that this movie was building up to, was getting Mack to forgive the man who killed his daughter. This… is about as heavy-handed in religion as you can get. Maybe the religious folks out there will get something out of this, but blind forgiveness is beyond foolish. I know the movie is trying to say, “Forgiveness isn’t easy. You might have to say it a thousand times before it gets any easier,” but it’s not justified at all. If someone did you wrong, essentially, your answer is to “just forgive them.” Well then what’s to stop a bad guy with half a mind to keep doing bad shit to a person like that? There’d be no immediate consequences for their actions and nearly no hard feelings toward them. On the surface, this movie is preaching that everyone deserves forgiveness, but I think that’s way too naive. Forgiveness, much like, friendship, love, sex, trust, and paychecks, they all need to be earned, not just freely given. And I get it, forgiveness can be absolving if you carry hatred for too long. This isn’t a bad thing to teach. But again, throwing it around like trash in downtown L.A. isn’t the answer and this movie doesn’t provide any realistic insight. Just… forgive, and all will be well, which is exactly how this movie ends.
If you’ve made it this far into my review, I salute you. I also hope it’s made clear to the religious readers out there that I’m trying to criticize the film itself, and not any religious faction or it’s followers. I believe there are some seriously morally compromising problems in this movie and within what it’s trying to say. Well-meaning, I suppose, but horribly executed. I wish I could say the passable acting and the very few good ideas were enough to save it from being a trainwreck, but because of these questionable morals that go terribly against everything that I believe would make people stronger, working through their suffering and coming to terms with loss and finding peace after tragedy, this isn’t the movie that teaches this correctly. It’s religious propaganda exclaiming, “If you don’t believe in God, you’re a bad person.” I can’t stand by a movie like that. Maybe its target audience will get something out of it, but as for me, I’m perfectly fine with never seeing this movie again. While I will continue to support the actors in this movie, as I don’t blame them for my problems with it, but this is definitely a hard pass and not worth seeing ever.
My honest rating for THE SHACK: 1/5