The Shack (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Mackenzie Phillips never really trusted God after the abuse he underwent at the hands of his father, but he really felt abandoned by Jesus when his youngest daughter was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead by a twisted man. Floundering in his faith, Mack receives a mysterious note signed by God telling him to return to the place where his daughter was found dead: a shack in the mountainous woods. Mack decides to return, thinking he can avenge his daughter’s death, but instead, he experiences an encounter with God beyond his wildest dreams.

Production Quality (2.5 points)

As a mainstream production, The Shack hits all the right notes en route to a nearly perfect score. This is due to great camera work, video quality, and audio quality. The sets, locations, and props are effectively utilized and authentic. Also, the soundtrack is very poignant and accessible. One minor nitpick to point out with this production pertains to the editing concerns, but this is mainly a plot issue that inadvertently affects this section. Overall, this is almost as good as it gets for a production.

Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)

Based on William Paul Young’s slightly controversial novel, the film is actually a step above the book as it takes time to explain more about the characters and their motivations. Even still, there are still some issues that hold The Shack back from being all that it could be. For one, the narration right out of the gate from Tim McGraw’s mysteriously omniscient character is completely unnecessary and calls into question why his subplot even exists. This brief, irrelevant storyline, in conjunction with some rushed and confusing scenes revolving around law enforcement, waste precious time at the beginning of the film and make the movie feel like it’s two different ones put together. This squandered time at the beginning hurts this section and likely keeps it from the Hall of Fame, but once the middle of the film arrives, it’s definitely worth a watch. At this point in the movie, The Shack isn’t afraid to tackle very realistic and raw issues we rarely see discussed in Christian film, including child abuse in the name of Christianity and incorrect views of God as well as the connections between these two concepts. Sometimes, flashbacks are used in very effective ways to present the plot and the character motivations, but it would have been better if all narration and early plot points were replaced with flashbacks to make it more of a non-linear style. However, despite a slightly incomplete view of God, The Shack does an excellent job with showing how God will relate to people on a very personal level via good philosophical discussions about life and power emotional experiences. Although it could have gone just a bit further with theological grounding (but not too much), this is a good place for a lot of people to start if they have a warped view of God. Basically, from the halfway point until the part before the end, The Shack is a nearly perfect film. The beginning and the epilogue that fixes things too easily detract from this section and keep it from being all that it could be. Nonetheless, this movie is definitely worth your time and can be a great tool to use to introduce people to God if they are closed to Him for one reason or another.

Acting Quality (2 points)

Another major detractor that keeps The Shack from being Hall of Fame is Sam Worthington’s accent-suppressing. If you’re going to cast a British-Australian actor for an American role, either train him with a better accent or just make the character British or Australian. As it is, the way he delivers his line is very distracting and comes off as breathy and insincere because of the accent clashing. This really puts a damper on things as it makes his emotions seem otherworldly and causes unsure line delivery, which is difficult to watch since he takes up so much screentime. However, other cast members, most notably Octavia Spencer, work overtime to make up for Worthington’s shortfalls and overall post very professional and noteworthy performances. In the end, this section is above average and rounds out a very commendable effort.

Conclusion

Though many theologically astute individuals like to “debunk” The Shack for its inaccuracies (there are a few small ones), the film as a whole demonstrates just how out of touch many Christian thought leaders are with everyday people. The movie does a much better job of relating to everyone on a personal level than any theological debate ever will, and it shows that God really wants with people: a relationship. While it could have use just a hair more theological grounding, The Shack is a great place for many people to start who have been hurt by Christianity or who may have invalid views of God. It’s unfortunate that it just misses the mark of being Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll see more films that walk the delicate balance of being personal-emotional and grounded at the same time. Once Christian entertainment as a whole learns how to relate to everyone personally, the industry will be unstoppable.

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points

Out of the Darkness [2016] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Eli is a troubled man with a strained relationship with his father.  The only person who shows him love, his ailing grandmother, is dying, thus leaving him seemingly alone in the world.  He continually has conflicts with his wife and threatens to leave her because of their financial struggles.  One night, he storms off into the woods and quickly finds himself lost—however, not all is at it seems.  He is about to undergo a psychological experience he will never forget as he will have to decide who he is and where he stands with God.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, as a rookie production, Out of the Darkness starts out very raw, with inconsistent audio quality that emphasizes background noises and odd lighting that gives the film an odd feel.  There are also some strange special effects that make the move seem cheap.  Camera work is random and inconsistent, although the video quality is okay.  Moreover, some production elements improve as the movie goes on, but the editing is always poor, as the strangest scenes are included in the final cut.  This is overall a disjointed effort that needs a lot of rework.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Though Out of the Darkness portrays some unfortunately realistic circumstances and characters, it does in a very disorganized and confusing manner.  As previously mentioned, the oddest elements and sequences are included that have no bearing on the ultimate point and only serve to waste time.  Once the plot gets more interesting, it presents some creative psychological elements that need way more explanation and exploration.  It feels like as it is, this plot is a rough draft of an idea that needs more development, yet somehow this was approved as the final draft.  It needs more content, more coherency, and more complexity for it to be any better, because, though it’s a good idea, it’s still an unfinished idea.  To top things off, the ending suggests way too many quick fixes for problems.  In the end, there is potential here, but it needs to be skillfully mined.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Though this cast has experience behind it, they don’t always show it.  They need way more coaching, as their emotions are very forced and amateurish.  Line delivery is okay, and both line and emotional delivery have some slight improvement throughout, which prevent this section from being hopeless.  But the bottom line is that not enough effort was put into this film to make the most out of what was provided.

Conclusion

The Justice Pictures team appears to be making attempts to have creative and different plot structures, but they need better characters to pull them off.  They also need to maximize their resources better and employ coaching for their cast members.  If they made just slight changes to their approach, they would find themselves getting better, which would lead to more investment, etc.  A lot of times, it’s the little problems that hold film makers back from being truly great.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points