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The Shack is clearly a step-up in the Christian drama genre. Over the last decade films of such ilk have generated hundreds of millions of dollars, even though pretty much all of them disregard any narrative cohesion or subtly in favor of their overwhelming religious messages.
With this success in mind, it's not really a surprise that, despite the extra star wattage it has at its disposal, The Shack sticks to the rigid formula that repeatedly entices religious viewers in their droves. It doesn't make it any less torturous, though, especially considering it has a running time of 132 painstakingly long minutes.
The Shack kicks off by introducing us to a young Mackenzie Phillips (Carson Reaume), who is repeatedly beaten, alongside his mother by his drunkard of a father. So much so that he eventually decides to poison him. Thirty years later, Mackenzie, who is now portrayed by Sam Worthington, has his own wife Nan (Radha Mitchell), and three children, Josh (Gage Munroe), Kate (Megan Charpentier), and their youngest Missy (Amelie Eve).
But when Missy is abducted and ultimately murdered during a family camping trip, Mackenzie sinks into a deep depression that causes him to question his faith. However, after being invited to the shack where Missy was believed to have been killed (her body was never found), by a mysterious letter, Mackenzie comes face to face with God (Octavia Spencer), as well as Jesus (Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara), who look to help him through his grieving process.
It's little surprise that The Shack was given such a comparably hefty budget, believed to be around $20 million, to work with, as it's actually based on William P. Young's best-selling novel that topped The New York Times Best Seller list and has sold over 10 million copies. Director Stuart Hazeldine, and his cinematographer Declan Quinn, use this to sprinkle the film with more cinematic panache than we're used to seeing from the genre.
Of course, the presence of Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) is enough to make any cinematic monstrosity a tad more bearable, but even her Academy Award winning exploits aren't enough to stop The Shack from being excruciating. Neither is Sam Worthington, who mumbles, grumbles, and whispers his way through a labored performance that somehow fails to make you feel sympathetic to a grieving father.
In fact, Mack's bereavement for his murdered daughter, and him wanting the man who killed her to be harmed, is presented as an annoyance that needs to be eradicated as quickly as possible. I get that it's not very Christian to harbor such feelings of hate, but it's also brutal and grotesque to suddenly try and make him get rid of them, too. Especially since nowhere near enough is done to establish how much of a detrimental effect this understandable reaction has had on his family.
Once it lands at it titular Shack, though, the film really starts to mirror the dreariness of its peers. It becomes increasingly repetitive, while due to Mack spending more and more time with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit its sermonizing borders on harassment. Then Graham Greene's male version of God turns up. I'm still not entirely sure why, but by this point I was so disinterested by what had previously unfolded I actually appreciated being jolted back into interest by his nonsensical arrival.
Evangelicals will see The Shack as a modern parable that should set the world to rights, looking beyond its copious amount of cinematic flaws that actually render it borderline incoherent and an absolute chore to sit through.