When it hit bookstores back in 2007, The Shack was a big deal. The story follows Mack, an everyman with skeletons in his closet, trying to make the best he can out of his present. When his youngest daughter is kidnapped and murdered, Mack slips into a deep depression and meets the holy trinity to seek redemption at the site of his daughter’s murder. The book sold like gangbusters and also caused major waves in Christian communities as it portrays the trinity as a black woman, a Middle Eastern man, and an Asian woman.
I grew up in a deeply Christian area of the United States. As a matter of fact, I was working as a youth ministries director when The Shack came out. In my young days, I was steeped in Christian culture. The movies never really did it for me, but I went to a fair number of Christian concerts. As I got older, my tastes changed, and I fell out of my affinity for that music. I decided that Consumer Christianity is not my scene, and haven’t looked back since. A decade later, we still can’t have breakfast on a Sunday morning because I’m at church, but I will decline your invitation to see God’s Not Dead 9. The purpose of this review isn’t to talk about the theological pros and cons of The Shack, nor is it a space for me to air my grievances about what happens when you turn Christ into a product. However, I do think it is important to let you know where I stand up top. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this insane movie.
The Shack is WILD. I certainly have my hang-ups about the theology on display in the film, but I mean base level, the plot is looney tunes. Before the words “THE SHACK” appear on screen, the audience is treated to alcoholism, spousal abuse, child abuse, suicide, patricide, a near-drowning, child abduction, pedophilia, and child murder. But it’s all done in this sanitized Christianed-up manner, and that is far more unsettling. It merely suggests that these things happen and forces the viewers to fill in the horrendous blanks. We don’t need to see these heinous acts in gory detail, but the off camera events combined with zero consequences make for low stakes and little emotional investment. Also, the performances don’t do much to bolster that.
Sam Worthington is the worst. He surprised us last year with a decent performance in Hacksaw Ridge, but The Shack proves that was a fluke. He constantly drops his accent, a problem he’s had his entire career, and he doesn’t have the emotional range to carry the weight of the narrative on his shoulders. Not only does it seem like he’s acting, you can watch him actively trying to squeeze the emotion out of every interaction. Octavia Spencer is a stellar performer, and she elevates what she is given. The one or two emotional beats of the film that work come from her. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, with Abraham Aviv Alush and Sumire Matsubara fading into the background to provide Mack with platitudes as the story calls for them. The whole thing is a slog, and the actors wear it on their faces.
When it’s all said and done, The Shack is a terrible movie. Unfortunately, it is also going to squeeze every last dollar out of my devout community. Which is a bummer, because this is the same group of people who didn’t show up for Martin Scorsese’s excellent Silence. Christians are sending a clear message with their wallets, and that message is: “The complicated nature of believing in a higher power overwhelms me with dread. Rather than confront it head on, I’ll go ahead and appease myself with this two-hour ego stroke that feeds me cotton candy and tells me everything is going to be okay.” As far as these terrible movies go, The Shack is one of the better ones in terms of production value, but its murky messaging and manipulative emotional moments do nothing but tarnish the polish.
Follow MJ on Twitter