Movies with Christian themes often face an uphill battle before the opening credits have even rolled. I don’t know why but it’s often easier to accept the existence of aliens or mythological creatures in cinema, and maybe in real life too, rather than God. This has probably come as a result of the poor quality of Christian films produced over the years. However, at the start of this year audiences were really treated to a film devoted to themes of faith through Martin Scorsese’s passion project ‘Silence’. I’ve never seen a better film which deals with such issues. Could ‘The Shack’ continue this more credible look into all things religious?
‘The Shack’ is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by William P. Young. The story of both follows a man, Mackenzie Phillips, who suffers a tragedy but then encounters God in his three forms. Mackenzie, or Mack is played by ‘Avatar’ star Sam Worthington. This is quite a challenging leading role for the actor. He’s got a tough concept to pull off but for the most part he’s adequate in his role. However there are some moments, usually in those instances of heightened drama, which showcase maybe why we don’t see Worthington be the leading man more often. The only other big casting is the magnificent Octavia Spencer, who makes the film a whole lot better than it has any right to be. She plays Papa, or God. She’s pretty perfect casting, I could really imagine her as God and she sells the concept better than anyone. She has the standout performance and makes the film entertaining as well as interesting. The rest of the cast don’t make much of an impact but like most Christian themed films the child acting is really not great.
Regardless of execution there is no denying that the concept for this film is a fascinating one. It lends itself to many extremely engaging scenes featuring conversations filled with interesting questions. As well as this level of intrigue, on paper the film should be a very emotional watch too. However, for me often this emotion didn’t really connect. It was the inclusion of the supernatural elements that always halted this for me, although there are a couple of moments that are effective. The inclusion of so many supernatural moments led to the film becoming unnecessarily convoluted and complicated. These also resulted in the more cringy moments we’re used to from this genre of film. Much to my surprise though there were actually some genuine laughs in here too. The fact that God is depicted dancing, listening to an Ipod and catching some rays whilst sipping on iced tea always managed to amuse me. Of course it was Spencer’s wonderful performance that helped to carry these moments, again confirming her as the MVP.
Often my biggest issue with Christian films is their blatant evangelical intentions. They don’t want to tell stories or entertain, instead they are simply looking for the biggest amount of converts. ‘The Shack’ is certainly evangelical but it has stories to tell too and it’s a massive improvement on previous films before it. It tackles a lot of huge questions and difficult issues that people have with God. It felt like a very honest script, including the types of questions many audiences members would have. However, on nearly every occasion when an issue was raised it would spark further questions in my head. Much to my surprise these were usually answered straight away, clearly showing great thought had gone into these moments. Although whilst the attempts to answer these questions and not shy away from them is admirable ultimately the film still raises more questions than provides answers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, I’m thankful for how thought provoking the film is and the discussions that it will no doubt inspire.
I’ll not be surprised to see ‘The Shack’ written off completely by critics and to a certain extent can understand why. The central performance could have been better and the supernatural elements often drastically reduce the quality of the picture. However, the concept is endlessly engaging and the confidence to address the major issues people have with faith is cool. It comes across as more than just an evangelical tool which is a welcome change. Despite this, it fails to really convince skeptics towards faith as it raises more questions than it answers. Whether or not this is the film’s intention I’m not sure but it makes a valiant attempt at merging this with an entertaining piece of film.
Rating – 6/10
Question: Who has given your favourite portrayal of God in a movie?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
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