Director Stuart Hazeldine brings to life William P. Young’s self-published Christian novel in the fantasy-drama film “The Shack,” released on March 3, 2017. “The Shack” tells the story of Mack Phillips and his family, who experience an unspeakable tragedy — the kidnapping and murder of the family’s youngest daughter, Missy.
“The Shack” is like an onion. You peel off each layer, and you just cannot stop yourself from crying no matter how hard you try to hold back the tears. This movie is loaded with emotional scenes and heartbreak.
Tragedy strikes the Phillips family, and Mack, his wife and two children struggle to cope with Missy’s murder.
While on a camping trip with his three children, Mack’s life is turned upside down. While Mack saves his other two children, Kate and Josh, from a canoeing accident, Missy disappears and is later pronounced dead after police find her tattered dress and blood in an abandoned shack. Mack, Kate and Josh blame themselves for Missy’s death and lose faith in God.
Mack struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, but one day, he receives a note in the mail signed, “Papa,” Mack’s wife’s nickname for God. The note is an invitation asking Mack to come to the shack the upcoming weekend. Enraged, lost and confused, Mack returns to the scene of his daughter’s murder, where he spends time with the Holy Trinity in order to understand, heal and forgive.
“The Shack” forces audiences to feel Mack’s pain. Although the scenery and special effects are already outstanding, the trials and tests Mack is forced to endure on this spiritual weekend getaway will have you crying as the film’s layers unfold.
The filmmakers make you fall in love with the Phillips family, and then they rip your heart out with Missy’s death. At first, I thought that was going to be the most heartbreaking part of the movie, but I could not have been more wrong. I suspect the writers got together and said, “How can we make this movie even more painful? We do not just want to make the viewers cry — we want to make them sob into their popcorn.”
Mack’s weekend is, for the most part, a typical trip to the lake, full of hiking, canoeing, walking on water and witnessing miracles.
In “The Shack,” God is not a presence. Instead, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all real people who work together to rebuild Mack’s relationship with his faith and push him to understand how God functions. Aviv Alush spends his time playing a comical Jesus and makes jokes about being human to a frustrated Mack while Sumire Matsubara plays Sarayu, the Holy Spirit, who spends the majority of the film talking in riddles, gardening and serving no real purpose.
Octavia Spencer gives Morgan Freeman a run for his money in her portrayal of the all-knowing God in “The Shack.” Audiences fall in love with her warm yet stern demeanor as she tries to ease Mack’s pain and explain why bad things still happen to good, faithful people.
Amongst the stunning scenery and advanced special effects, Mack is forced to face the demons of his past as well as undergo a series of tests that help him show what it is like to be an omniscient God who is also faced with heartbreak when humans sin.
“The Shack” conveys the message that no matter what, God is always there, regardless of what struggles or pain an individual experiences. Although the message is positive, the film is crowded with dramatized tests that are designed to show Mack what being God is actually like.
In one scene, Mack is instructed to set out on a hike into a mountain where a woman forces him to decide which of his two children goes to Hell and which goes to Heaven. Rather than picking, Mack tells the woman to send him to Hell instead of taking his children.
The deep and thought-provoking scenes prove the movie’s point, but viewers never get a break. I left the theater feeling exhausted rather than uplifted and hopeful.
We learn that Mack is no stranger to hardship, being that his father was an abusive alcoholic who Mack poisoned. However, that aspect of his childhood is glossed over throughout the film. In order to tie up loose ends, Mack and his father reunite in a field where his father tells Mack that he forgives him for poisoning him.
While the ending is bittersweet, “The Shack” seems unfinished and ends abruptly. I was left feeling hopeless and depressed for two hours of my life, and the final scene could not make up for that.
Audiences follow Mack on his journey to forgiveness, but “The Shack’s” journey is unfinished and sloppy. The point of the film gets lost amongst the never-ending heartbreak.
Although I think “The Shack” takes a creative approach by portraying the Holy Trinity as three diverse and quirky individuals, the film lacks the power to comfort those who are in pain and help them heal and forgive.