The new film The Shack explores an array of time-worn theological issues regarding subjects such as good and evil, the existence of God, faith, suffering, and forgiveness. Although it’s billed as a film geared to appeal to audiences of all faiths, The Shack has a definite Christian point of view which is based on a very conservative religious belief system. Indeed, throughout the film, viewers are bombarded with preachy dialogue and heavy-handed symbolism. From start to finish, The Shack feels more like a Sunday school lesson than a commercial film.
The Shack is based on a popular novel by William P. Young and is directed by Stuart Hazeldine. It features a talented cast which includes Sam Worthington, Radha Mitchell, Tim McGraw, and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. The title refers to a dilapidated cabin in the woods, which is not only the site of a terrible crime but midway through the narrative, morphs into a virtual garden of Eden where Mackenzie, the main character, meets up with three strangers who embody God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
The plot of The Shack revolves around a wholesome church-going family who suffer an unthinkable tragedy which not only effects their relationships with one another but also with God. While on a camping trip with his three kids Mackenzie discovers that his youngest daughter has vanished. When its clear that she’s been abducted and the worst is confirmed everyone is forced to deal with the loss in his or her own way. The tragedy hits Mackenzie especially hard as he struggles with feelings of guilt and overwhelming grief. Months after his daughter’s disappearance, however, Mackenzie finds a mysterious letter in his mailbox inviting him to come to the shack. Propelled by this bizarre discovery, the pain-ridden father sets off on a spiritual journey aimed at coming to terms with his loss as well as facing issues such as the importance of forgiveness and the true nature of God.
Although The Shack has much better production values than 2014’s Left Behind, a film in the same vein, the end result is the same: a preachy heavy handed lesson in old school Christianity. To make matters worse, the filmmaker makes use of an array of tired cinematic devices including traditional voiceover narration, flashbacks, and a “was it a dream…did it really happen…” theme.
In relation to religious doctrine, The Shack attempts to address complex concepts in largely simplistic terms. At one point God dismisses Mackenzie’s interpretation of the crucifixion by noting that as a human being he doesn’t know the complete story. Later on while discussing why God allows so much suffering in the world the deity explains that He/She loves all His/Her children and during times of suffering remains with them (while not intervening). The concept of evil is defined simply as the absence of God…but not just any God. The Shack is very specific in promoting an old style Christian value and belief system. The movie makes it clear that the key to surviving life’s harshest challenges lies in having faith in Jesus; a concept which won’t provide non Christians with much comfort.
The Shack features numerous unintentionally comic scenes which are tough to suffer through. One glaring example features Jesus and Mackenzie’s walk on water foot race across a lake. Another sequence involves the so-called spirit’s hobby of collecting tears which, when sprinkled atop the grave of a loved one, results in the rapid growth of a tree.
Despite containing several references to hell one character whose totally left out of The Shack is the devil. Because the movie deals with weighty subjects such as suffering, death, pedophilia, and murder it seems obvious that it should’ve included a discussion as to the role of the prince of darkness. Perhaps there will be a role for Lucifer in a sequel. With all this in mind it seems clear that The Shack won’t convert anyone but it will appeal to a specific demographic including diehard believers and those who peddle their religious beliefs on street corners and door to door.
The Shack is now playing in theatres.