Controversy permeates The Shack. Some in the Christian community reject William Paul Young’s bestselling story for its theological faults. Others applaud its illustration of how the Trinity (God himself) pulls us out of our darkness.
For the purposes of this review, the following explanation of Lionsgate’s movie will address its quality, as well as, its content. Is it worth the price of admission? Does it serve Young’s story, a work of fiction 20 million readers worldwide responded to upon its release in 2007?
The simple answer: yes and no.
Before we get into its strengths and weaknesses as a film though, let’s get the story straight.
A loving father and husband, Mack (Sam Worthington) dotes on his family. But, their strong bond severs when his youngest daughter goes missing. A massive search uncovers a tragic scene that sends Mack into a tailspin of despair and doubt. Despondent, Mack retreats from his life and family until one day when a mysterious letter from Papa (his wife’s name for God) appears in his mailbox. Curious and desperate for answers, he returns to the shack where his daughter’s body was found. It’s there he comes face to face with the truth.
The Shack builds to a timely and profound story, but starts slow and doesn’t always fully engage. The book’s controversy isn’t lost in its translation to the big screen. If you had problems with accepting this fictional illustration of a tragic journey to faith and forgiveness, then you’re not going to appreciate the film. If you’re a believer who can overlook its flaws and see it as a parable of a man who loses and regains his soul (and not as Gospel truth), then check it out.
Worthington’s moments with Octavia Spencer (Papa) are moving, the film’s highlights actually. Their exchanges point to a powerful message – that God will meet you where you are. The film’s dialogue explains that Papa comes to Mack as a woman because he wasn’t emotionally ready to receive such a divine visit any other way. The Son and Holy Spirit also appear to help guide Mack toward healing.
Unfortunately, The Shack is uneven. A few integral moments are weak, such as when Mack meets Wisdom. Though the purpose of their encounter is inspirational, it feels like Mack (and the audience) is being lectured.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violence, The Shack isn’t kid appropriate. The plot revolves around a child’s kidnapping and murder. Audiences also witness a troubling scene of an alcoholic abusing a child.
For all its faults, The Shack has the potential to confront and compel some soul searching at the movies this weekend.