“You’re never as alone as you think.”
NOTE: No spoilers here.
Based on the 2007 New York Times best-selling novel, The Shack is a dramatic life journey of Mack Phillips, played Sam Worthington (Hacksaw Ridge, Avatar). This fictional but inspirational journey spans through Mack’s seemingly satisfactory family life as a husband and father of three to heart wrenching tragedy.
British director/filmmaker Stuart Hazeldine (Exam and the short Christian) and his crew keep this material focused without stripping out the meaning or insulting the audiences’ intelligence though some of the dramatic scenes are a bit too long. They utilize several flash backs early to reveal Mack’s background where Derek Hamilton (TV’s Arrow) plays Mack’s Dad and Tanya Hubbart plays Mack’s Mom.
Filmmakers continue these often traumatic reminders throughout the two-hour and 12 minute plot. It’s a sustained challenge where the characters initially use logic as a starting point then weigh if these events are simply fictional or submit they cannot fully know the mind of God.
Veteran screenwriter John Fusco adapts this challenging material from William P. Young’s book with the promising new screenwriting team of Andrew Lanham and Destin Cretton. Biblical knowledge a plus here, but not required on this journey. The film’s depictions are respectful of God, but also include universalist/universalism themes.
The narration from Mack’s friend and neighbor Willie, played by Tim McGraw, provides important details about Mack and adds some emotional perspective.
Mack’s wife, Nan, played by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) lovingly supports Mack and their children Kate, played by Megan Charpentier, and Josh, played by Gage Munroe.
Amelie Eve makes a memorable feature film debut as their young daughter Missy. Carson Reaume does a good job as the Young Mack except in his dialogue delivery where he’s hard to understand near the end of his performance during some traumatic sequences.
Set in Oregon, The Shack title describes the setting where tragedy and ultimately healing occur, but it takes bravery, faith, and sacrifice in an encounter with the Holy Trinity, which is personified in this film by the following cast: God (Octavia Spencer/Graham Greene), Jesus (Aviv Alush), and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara). Wisdom is also personified by Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Elysium).
Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) has the strong screen presence to hold the audiences’ attention throughout some hefty dialogue sequences and Greene (Maverick, Dances With Wolves) is a welcome sight who’s well cast at a crucial point in the film as the male “Papa”.
Alush’s portrayal of Jesus is warm and intelligent as filmmakers add some familiar events from his life create a bridge to Mack. Matsubara is well cast as “Sarayu.” Her ethereal movements and dialogue delivery are enhanced with lighting effects and other bright visuals well captured by cinematographer Declan Quinn. Filmmakers also enhance an important”before and after” sequence using the same camera shot straight above a beautiful nature area as audiences see a visual representation of a character’s progress.
Good and evil remain clear opposites as Mack negotiates through the well varied challenges for peace and understanding. These events can hit the emotional side hard, especially if audience do not know the source material, which can often be historical and provocative at the same time.
The Shack is hopeful and agonizing at the same time as discussions on theology, fate and God’s will can easily continue well after leaving the theater. This film takes a slow, deliberate pace much like the 10-year-old book. The presented concepts, ideas and elements warrants this pace so audiences have time to ponder/comprehend before progressing through the plot, which thrives when audiences invest and engage in Mack’s personal path and/or God’s role in our lives.
Composer Aaron Zigman’s musical score dominates the film until a key sequence near the end when we hear the first prominently featured song. The high quality songs include works by Hillsong United, Neil Young, Francesca Battistelli, Lady Antebellum, Dan + Shay, NEEDTOBREATHE, For King & Country, Skillet, Kelly Clarkson and a new duet between McGraw and his wife Faith Hill.
This two-hour and 12 minute film comes recommended (*** out of four stars) and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violence.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler