by George Wolf
Grief, faith and healing are serious subjects, but is it really fair to expect depth on these matters from a film based on a children’s story? To see how it can be done, you need only go back a few months to find When A Monster Calls, so yes, it’s more than fair.
There is precious little depth at home in The Shack, despite the mansions full of good intentions.
The uneven mix of sermon and parable follows Mac (Sam Worthington), a grieving father turning away from religion after the murder of his young daughter. A strange invite lures him to the scene of the crime itself, where Mac meets God (Octavia Spencer, pulling it off as you knew she would) and begins his journey of reconciliation.
Based on the self-published novel by William P. Young (originally intended only as a gift for his children), The Shack cannot get us invested in either Mac or his family. Director Stuart Hazeldine and a team of writers (which surprisingly includes Destin Daniel Cretton, director of the excellent Short Term 12) instead manage paper-thin cliches and narrated platitudes such as “She’s the glue that holds the family together” posing as character development.
Mac’s question for the Almighty is big and familiar. If God loves us, how can he/she permit evil acts to occur? The answers, sweet but hardly profound, are hampered by execution which seems bent on reassuring the white suburban male.
In addition to Spencer’s God, Mac has spiritual meetings with an Asian woman, an Israeli, a Native American and a Latina. An underlying message of wisdom through diversity or just more “magic ethnicity” at the movies? If it’s the former, having Mac return home to a completely white congregation is not helping.
Good films rarely resort to preaching about anything. For 132 minutes, this film relies on a structure that’s inherently problematic for anyone but the choir. It tells us much but, despite a few lush visuals, shows us very little. As lovely as the message may be, The Shack is a strangely joyless endeavor, landing more as a chore than a calling.