I think that there was a story that had some potential in this film. Unfortunately, it seemed to get lost among the sermonizing.
The Shack tells the story of Mac (Sam Worthington) and his family, who take a camping trip. Mac’s wife Nan (Radha Mitchell) could not go along so it was just Mac and his three kids. And everything seems to be going well. The family had met several other families and were having a good time roasting marshmallows and canoeing on the lake. However, when Mac’s attention is drawn away because of an accident on the lake, his youngest daughter Missy (Amélie Eve) is snatched by a man and kidnapped.
FBI agents were called in and they discovered a shack in the mountain where the bloody dress of little Missy found. Struck with grief, Mac withdraws from himself and dives into depression. A mysterious letter is found in his mail box, offering an invitation from “Papa” (the name that his wife used to refer to God) for Mac to return to the shack where his daughter died.
As I said, I think there could have been a story here that was worth telling, but the movie really gets bogged down when Mac heads back to the cabin and meets Papa (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). I think this film needed to be more mysterious or needed to allow the audience to determine what was going on. Instead, every little bit is dropped right at the viewers’ feet and explained in the manner the film wanted you to think. There is little room for interpretation or judgement here. I did actually enjoy some of the philosophy presented almost like a new-age dogma, but I didn’t need it pounded over my head.
The acting was, at best, average. The kid actors were not very good, in particular the young actor who played Mac as a kid. They had him try to do more than he should in several early scenes which set a tone in the movie. Worthington has seen better days. The only standout was Octavia Spencer, who sold her character completely and was always entertaining no matter what was happening. Aviv Alush was an interesting take on Jesus as well. I could have enjoyed the character as one of the more original takes on Jesus, if the film didn’t feel the need to double down on message.
There is a distinct problem with these faith-based movies. The problem is that the film makers are so determined to get their religious message across that they forget to tell an engaging and entertaining story. The Shack had what could have been that story that pulled you into the movie, but it was overwhelmed with the takeaway.
The film even started off by setting up a seriously tragic backstory for Mac, involving an abusive and alcoholic father. Unfortunately, that plotline is severely dropped and only touched upon later in the film. Mac is made to do several things in this heavenly cabin in the woods that make little sense. Maybe that is why they insist on telling us their message constantly. The entire section with Alice Braga was ridiculous.
By the end of The Shack (which took forever- way too long of a film), I was tired of the film, which is a shame, because I truly think that there was something in the movie that could have been shaped into an entertaining film. Unfortunately, the message seemed to overpower everything else.