IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 132 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Mack Phillips has managed to overcome a rough childhood marked by the cruelties of a drunken and abusive father. He now has a happy life with wife Nan and three kids, teenagers Kate, Josh, and Missy – but that all changes when Missy disappears after being left alone by Mack while he rescues the other two from drowning in a canoeing mishap. It turns out that someone out there has been abducting and killing little girls, and although the police are able to track the suspect’s whereabouts to a remote, dilapidated shack, all that is found inside is some blood and Misty’s torn dress. Four years later, Mack is still struggling to build relationships with his family and friends. Then one morning he receives a mysterious letter inviting him to the shack where he encounters God, Jesus and Sarayu, the spirit of creativity….
The Shack sounds like the name of a horror film, and it’s certainly horrific as it basically says: “God loves you no matter how bad your life is or how bad you are” for 132 minutes. The best way I can describe how bad it is is for me to firstly admit that, out of us lot on HCF, I’m the cry baby. If there’s a sad or emotional scene in a movie, there’s a good chance that tears will fall. There are certain film like Cinema Paradiso and The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg which I only have to think about and I’ll feel very weak inside. Hell, even the ending of Con Air gets me – and that’s a happy one. The Shack had four or five really heavy scenes in its final quarter, virtually coming after each other, which normally would have got me blubbing ridiculously, but instead I just sat there and didn’t feel a thing – well, that’s not totally correct as I actually felt like throwing up a couple of times. Faith films like this are a big thing in the US these days, and I’ve seen a handful, but I’ve yet to see one that’s any good – and this is coming from a lapsed Catholic who doesn’t “believe” but who still cannot deny the power of certain religious films like the 1959 Ben-Hur. Despite opening with hymn singing in church which at least serves as a kind of warning, the first half an hour of The Shack isn’t actually too bad, aside from a scene which seems to suggest that little Mack poisoned his father, something which is then NEVER referred to again, something which should tell you how awful the script is.
However, once Mack returns to the shack and encounters God, Jesus and I’m guessing a kind of equivalent of the Holy Spirit called Sarayu [I can’t work out whether whether having them played by an African-American actress, an Isreali actor and a Japanese actress respectively is a way of reminding us that we’re all God’s children or a cynical attempt to make the film appeal to a wider audience than the Evangelical Midwestern Christian set], boredom sets in as we witness a thoroughly dreary series of sequences [o, and Jesus teaches Mack to walk on water] where Mack asks questions and receives what seem to me wishy-washy or contradictory answers which are usually so insubstantial that I reckon a lot of people suffering from grief who are drawn to seeing this film will find much of it offensive and come out feeling worse then when they went in. It also seems to portray God as a largely pointless being who is responsible for all the good things but who tries to talk his way out of any responsibility for the bad, and who just can’t be bothered to judge anyone. The movie even seems to suggest that people who do bad things should never receive any blame. Now I didn’t get as much from Silence as the majority of critics seemed to do, but at least that film was an intelligent look at faith under duress. This atrocity is just horrendously ham-fisted in its look at the subject, and it’s probably worth pointing out in the interests of balance that many Christians have expressed serious dislike for this film and the scarily popular book that inspired it. Director Stuart Hazeldine has at least given us a pretty looking film, much of it set in colourful CGI-enhanced flower-filled landscapes, and Sam Worthington isn’t too bad despite growling like an Australian Batman on downers. In fact the acting as a whole is too good for the film, though the score by the usually good Aaron Zigman never shuts up while failing to give us a single memorable cue. Mostly this is purgatory.