I really appreciate how consistent Rotten Tomatoes is whenever they call out “heavy-handed sermonizing“. I wouldn’t say that The Shack is necessarily the biggest example of sermonizing, but it’s good to know that even if there’s a sliver of it, Rotten Tomatoes is sure to hold movies accounta–
Oh, never mind.
Don’t get me wrong: I think The Shack is absolute garbage, but it’s not because it’s “preachy”. Yeah, there’s moments of that in there, and it’s annoying, but it’s not even close to the type of preachiness I see in most Christian movies.
It’s also not the fact that it’s heretical, which many of my fellow Christians have pointed out. There is quite a bit of material here that has absolutely no basis in Scripture (and I will dedicate a portion of my review to that), but there’s a lot more examples in the movie of The Shack not being Biblically inaccurate.
No, the problem is almost entirely based on execution. This film is one of the sloppiest, most poorly-acted, and most cliched movies I’ve seen in such a long time.
The worst part of this movie is unmistakably the fact that they casted Sam Worthington in a role that he does not have the talent for. Worthington is a man that can perform well provided he is given a role that requires almost no emotional complexity. The reason he was fine in Hacksaw Ridge is because he was casted as a mild-mannered, nearly emotionless soldier.
In this movie, when Worthington’s child goes missing, when someone close to him dies, when someone tells him something he emotionally cannot accept, when he’s staring DIRECTLY INTO THE FACE OF GOD, he bears the same type of emotions: mild irritation, depressive confusion, or monotonous indifference. Whenever the man cries out in agony or sobs uncontrollably, his face is either hidden or off-screen.
Every single damn scene Worthington is in completely took me out of the universe this movie was trying to set up. And considering Worthington is in almost 100% of the movie, take a guess at how often I was engrossed in the story?
If nothing else in the movie was fixed, but they recasted this leading role with someone who could pull off half the scenes in this movie, then I would likely be able to at least half-heartedly recommend The Shack to a select audience. As it stands though, this movie is almost completely unwatchable.
I could honestly just leave my review at that:
“Sam Worthington ruins the entire movie.”
However, he’s not the only thing wrong in this film, so in the same fashion as this film did, I will drag this content out.
Every single other character in Worthington’s family ensemble was also excruciatingly unconvincing in their roles. There’s some forgiveness I can find in the three child actors because they weren’t a big part of this movie and they were sometimes okay. However, Worthington’s wife character also never convinced me of any sort of strong emotions. This is a problem because bad things happen to this family at one point, so when the bad things happen and the actors give me stone-cold indifference, THEN WHAT THE HELL DO YOU EXPECT ME TO FEEL, MOVIE?!?!
The movie runs unnecessarily long at two hours and seventeen minutes when it could have easily been shorter. The movie could have cut out at least a half hour of this content, and absolutely nothing would have been lost.
The movie gets rid of Worthington’s family pretty early into the movie because he has to spend some quality time with The Holy Trinity, who I would imagine was casted by the guys who make those diversity fliers for universities.
The Holy Spirit is a Japanese woman who collects tears in a bottle that she eventually uses to grow super large trees and pretty flowers… God, I wish I was being facetious. She performed terribly in her role, occasionally to the point where I had to hold back laughter.
Jesus is an Israeli man who speaks in a gravelly voice, which was mildly irritating during the times he’s speaking directly to Worthington, a man who also speaks in a gravelly voice. He was okay in his role.
Unsurprisingly, the best performer in this film was Octavia Spencer (who was casted as God… or as this movie calls Him… Papa). And even then, I can easily say that this is one of her weakest performances. However, considering how bad everyone else was, and considering how bad the script often got, I’m very willing to give Spencer a pass here.
The film is absolutely littered with cliches and overused tropes. At least three sad parts in the movie are emphasized by pouring rain. There’s a scene where a boy is being whipped outside by his father with a belt, and it was pouring down rain on top of them during this time. It was almost laughable.
The movie is completely replete with missed opportunities. You have a movie where a man is literally talking to God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit, and they never bring up anything genuinely heartfelt, interesting, or awe-inspiring about it. Most of the dialogue between Worthington and one of the God Heads is just a bunch of pleasant nothings and overused Christian slogans.
The only “awe-inspiring” stuff the movie has to offer is some extremely vivid visual effects. But visual effects are supposed to compliment a great story, not compensate for a crippled story with bad writing. And when you have this vivid imagery, IT MIGHT MAKE IT GREAT IF YOU DIDN’T CAST A MAN WHO CANNOT PORTRAY EMOTIONS INVOLVING WONDERMENT AND AWE.
Now as I’ve stated before, I would dedicate some time to talking about the Biblical inaccuracies (I have some background in this being a former ministry major). If you’re not interested in that, just skip to the final two paragraphs. Rest assured that the Biblical inaccuracies have absolutely nothing to do with how I graded this film.
So it might irritate some people that God is a woman in this movie. We could go into the Biblical schematics of this type of casting, but the movie states that God is shown to Worthington as a woman because “[God] figured [Worthington] could not use a father figure right now”, alluding to the fact that Worthington’s character was beaten constantly as a child by his alcoholic father.
There’s another point in the movie where Worthington “needs a father figure today” according to the movie, so they temporarily recast God as a big Native-American man. To me, this isn’t a big deal, so I’m moving on.
There is a moment where Octavia Spencer as God says that she isn’t “wrathful”, that God does not have a wrathful side. This is ludicrous and disingenuous. Anybody (Christian, atheist, etc.) who has read the Bible will find numerous examples of “the wrath of God”, mainly because God hates sin. God hating sin is kind of a big deal and is a huge factor to why a Savior was necessary in the first place.
There’s also a moment in the movie where Jesus guffaws at “religion”, and says that religion is basically unnecessary, and that he himself would not consider himself a “Christian”. There’s no Biblical foundation for this. One might say that Jesus made enemies with the religious Pharisees, but that’s because The Pharisees twisted Scripture to their own means, valued religious piety over helping those in need, and used religion to forward their own authority and ambition.
Do you use your religion for that? Then Jesus would guffaw at your religion. Do you use your religion in a way that’s Scripturally accurate? Then you would realize that Jesus would not pan every single religious practice.
Also, The Holy Spirit does not collect tears in a glass vial to use for making pretty flowers.
The Shack is a terrible movie. It’s a terrible movie because the acting is horrendous, and the entire story is riddled with cheesiness, cliches, missed opportunities, and the occasional insincerity. It’s not because it’s necessarily “preachy”. Now, I know there’s a large swath of the Christian community that just wants to watch a movie that reaffirms their ideals. I guess I can understand that. Secular people give extra credit to many movies and films that reaffirm their ideals, too.
So I would imagine that these gaping issues will not bother you if you are one of those people. Otherwise, if the actual quality of a film matters to you, then I cannot possibly recommend this film.