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

The Miracle of the Cards (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Craig Shergold was a healthy eight-year-old boy until he began having mysterious headaches.  The doctors ran tests and found that Craig had a brain tumor, so Craig’s parents immediately began taking steps to combat the disease inside their son’s body.  As they walk on the journey together, Craig’s mother continually has premonitions and visions about her son’s future.  Craig also receives millions of get-well cards, prompting media attention to his story and talks of a world record.  Could it be that the cards are instrumental in Craig’s healing?

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Unfortunately, as an early 2000s made-for-television production, The Miracle of the Cards is not what it’s cracked up to be.  Video quality is relatively cheap-looking, although camera work is fine.  Audio quality is also fine, except there is a cheesy stereotypical soundtrack to go with it.  Sets, locations, and props are decent enough.  There are one too many cheesy special effects that attempt to go with the ‘magical’ themes of this film.  Finally, the editing is quite choppy as time skips around to hit the high points—in doing this, the audience is left confused.  In the end, not enough time was spent on this production to make the movie worth it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

As previously mentioned, there is not very much plot content in The Miracle of the Cards as time travels too quickly, thus leaving characters underdeveloped.  Dialogue only serves to report what is happening as time spends by—in doing so, the characters are left shallow  and one-dimensional.  Though this is a true story, it is seemingly based on too many coincidences; a sense of realism is missing from this plot, especially considering the number of childish magical and sensational elements.  The presence of these elements is frustrating because it’s hard to take this movie seriously when they are there.  Unfortunately, they weaken and cheapen the Christian message that is included in it.  In the end, at least this film is based on a true story (its only redeeming quality in this category), but it’s hard to see that there were any motives behind this film except making money on an easy-to-market television movie.

Acting Quality (2 points)

With a professional cast (even though it includes Kirk Cameron), the acting is by far this film’s strongest suit and keeps it from being left in the basement of Christian film.  There are few errors here pertaining to emotional and line delivery.  This just goes to show you that a good cast with good coaching can make all the difference in your movie.

Conclusion

What is one to do with kids-with-cancer films?  They are easy to get people to watch, especially if they’re on TV.  But despite true stories behind them, their plots are still formulaic and predictable.  Just because you use a real idea doesn’t mean you need to ignore character development.  Without realistic characters, the realism of the story is undermined.  In the end, many will view this film as fine, and it’s definitely not one of those embarrassing films, but we still feel it could have been better.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points