There’s nothing subtle about “The Shack.”
This is a faith-based movie that uses a heavy hand to pound viewers with its religious messages. That’s a shame because when the film isn’t preaching, the story of how someone deals with great loss is touching and moving.
At the heart of this film based on the bestselling novel, Sam Worthington plays Mack Phillips, a loving father who takes his three children on a camping trip where the youngest daughter is kidnapped. The loss of the child creates an overwhelming sorrow and suffering that is tearing apart the family.
It’s also causes Mack to question his belief in God. He can’t understand how a caring and loving God, who knows all, could let such a tragedy happen. Theologians say this is the second-most-asked question after “Does God really exist?”
On a snowy day when he’s home alone, Mack gets an invitation to return to the cabin where his daughter was killed. It’s a mysterious request, but Mack feels driven to respond in case he can find out any clues about his daughter’s final hours.
What he gets is a weekend with God as shown through the trinity of Papa (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). It’s his opportunity to ask direct questions about the way God works.
The film turns into a seminar on theology with Mack asking direct questions and God answering with questions or parables. The script by John Fusco and Andrew Lanham (based on the book by William P. Young) takes Mack through the stages of grief as he’s lost both a child and his faith.
The portions of the story that deal with Mack as the father are the strongest because they will resonate with anyone who is a parent – no matter their faith or lack of it. This kind of event is a parent’s worst nightmare and one that can be all-consuming. It’s easy to understand this dark and painful world.
Adding to the father’s story is him having to confront other family problems that have haunted his heart since he was a child. This makes for more powerful moments.
Each time the story turns back to the religious angle, the script seems more like a Sunday sermon. There are interpretations of what the Bible means, but these are based on the views of men and women who have faith that what they are answering is true. This viewpoint makes those portions of “The Shack” seem a little more distant.
Director Stuart Hazeldine guides his cast through the story of love, loss, faith and failure with a steady hand. It’s just impossible in a two-hour film to answer questions people have been asking for centuries.
“The Shack” is beautifully shot, but that can’t distract from a story that takes some very definitive angles on religion. They are so distinct that it doesn’t come across as inviting to those with other views on God. But, the choir will love it.