It’s possible that we’ll see a worse movie released in 2017 than ‘The Shack’, but that’s only because life is full of surprises, not because this complete failure is remotely redeemable.
As I must any time that I rip apart a Christian-sploitation movie, I must now take a moment to make clear that tearing down ‘The Shack’ is in no way an attempt to ridicule a specific religion or the beliefs of those who follow it. I’m merely acknowledging that this movie is a total train wreck. The fact that it’s tied so deeply to a specific faith is not its primary failing. That’s just the most unfortunate side effect of this nonsense.
‘The Shack’ is based on a bestselling novel, which is hopefully far better than the garbage movie that came from it. Sam Worthington plays Mack, a man who loves his family more than anything in the world other than G-O-D. That puts him in a pickle when a strange series of events leads to his youngest daughter being kidnapped and murdered through no fault of his own. Of course, Mack blames himself, as does everyone else in his family. He’s understandably stuck in a deep depression. Then things go all topsy-turvy when he receives a letter that seems to be signed by God, inviting him to the cabin where his daughter was murdered. He treks out there and, sure enough, God appears to him in various forms, including Octavia Spencer playing both a gender and racial stereotype. The reason why God decided to appear to our plucky protagonist? Why, to teach him how important it is that he forgive his child’s murderer, of course!
Yes, that’s right. This is a movie about the value of finding the humanity in a kiddie killer. How Christian! (I mean, I know it technically is… but seriously.)
Obviously, forgiveness is one of the key tenets of Christianity, and ‘The Shack’ does admirably try to push that concept to a deliberate extreme. The movie isn’t pro child murder by any stretch of the imagination. It goes out of its way to make it clear that murdering children is, you know, wrong. Good for the filmmakers for acknowledging that fact. However, the attempts to explain why this character should forgive that act are limited to the most cartoonishly simplistic psychoanalysis (i.e. the kiddie murderer must have had a bad childhood).
We don’t learn the specifics because that would be a step too far down a rabbit hole of tastelessness. Instead, Mack comes to accept that his own abusive father was even more abused as a child. So, if Mack can forgive daddy, then he must also forgive this monster. This is all explained through an uncomfortably preachy sequence in which God demands that Mack decide which of his surviving children he would send to Hell. No surprise, papa Mack doesn’t take too kindly to that question, but he’s forced to realize that this is God’s big dilemma as well when the Bearded One decides who gets to join the big toga party in the sky. Again, it’s clear what the writers were going for; it’s just rather icky and manipulative.
Beyond that, the film is a cornball festival of cheap effects and aggressive heartstring pulling to the point of painful annoyance. In one scene, one of the faces of God not only teaches Mack how to walk on water, but how to run across the lake in a cheapo ‘Chariots of Fire’ montage so laughable that it could easily be viewed as an Adult Swim parody of bad Christian melodrama without altering a frame. Acting is pretty rough all around, aside from Octavia Spencer, who has such an endearing presence that she avoids embarrassing herself. As for everyone else, be prepared for wooden pageantry acting that would be unacceptable in regional theater. Sam Worthington can barely even be bothered to conceal his Australian accent. To be fair, who can blame him? Only a few short years ago, he headlined the most successful blockbuster ever made. He shouldn’t have to star in quick-buck crap like ‘The Shack’ anymore. It’s a safe bet that Worthington probably went through his own existential crisis during production that was completely different from the one he portrayed.
The saddest thing about movies like ‘The Shack’ is that they’re essentially manipulating and exploiting the faith of good people who deserve better. While there’s nothing wrong with Christian-focused entertainment, those movies should be held to the same standard as the secular filmmaking world. To release insultingly produced movies like ‘The Shack’ (which features CGI visions of Heaven that would have felt insultingly cheap as cut-scenes in a mid-’90s PlayStation game) is taking advantage of a captive audience for financial gain. Granted, that’s how most movies operate, but since this one is taking advantage people’s faith, it’s extra gross, even if the filmmakers themselves are Christian.
Of course, that criticism is true of most direct-to-church-basement productions and the weird explosion in theatrical releases for such projects that ‘The Shack’ has capitalized on. The fact that this movie also preaches forgiveness for child murderers… well… that’s just inappropriate. ‘The Shack’ is easily the worst entry in the recent explosion of theatrically released Biblical fan fiction. This disaster will be tough to top and will likely become a pop culture punchline if enough secular eyeballs see this nasty, exploitative cash grab.
See if you can deliver a movie worse than this, 2017. I dare you.