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"THE SHACK"
(2017) (Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Still reeling from his youngest daughter's abduction and murder, a bitter family man ends up spending time with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and demands answers as to why they let that atrocity occur.
PLOT:
It's been some time since the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy (AMELIE EVE), and Mack Phillips (SAM WORTHINGTON) is letting his understandable anger and pain consume him, much to the detriment of his relationship with his wife, Nan (RADHA MITCHELL), and surviving kids, Josh (GAGE MUNROE) and Kate (MEGAN CHARPENTIER). While they're away during a snowstorm, Mack is startled to find a mysterious letter in his mailbox, addressed to him by Papa, Nan's name for God. He knows she didn't put that there as she's hurting as much as he is, and initially thinks it might be a sick prank by his long-time neighbor, Willie (TIM McGRAW). He denies any part of that, but agrees to travel with Mack to the shack deep in the woods where Missy was apparently killed, and which is addressed in the letter.

As they prepare to leave, Mack takes Willie's truck and travels there by himself, more expecting to meet his daughter's killer than God. But it's the latter who he meets in the form of Papa (OCTAVIA SPENCER) who, along with Jesus (AVRAHAM AVIV ALUSH) and Sarayu (SUMIRE MATSUBARA) the Holy Spirit, tries to help Mack heal. But he initially wants no part of that, what with angrily blaming them for allowing the abduction and murder to occur. Over the course of several days, however, they manage to get him to understand how they work, believe in that, and allow forgiveness into his heart.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
There's the old saying about holding anger or resentment toward others being akin to drinking poison and expecting that other person to die. In short, it only poisons you, and that's one of the life lessons to be found in "The Shack," the cinematic version of the 2007 novel of the same name by William P. Young.

As directed by Stuart Hazeldine from a screenplay adaptation by John Fusco and Andrew Lanham & Destin Cretton, the film follows a man (Sam Worthington) whose young daughter was abducted from a campground and murdered, all while he saving another of his kids from a near-drowning.

Not only does Mack hold venomous anger toward the never caught or identified killer, but he also expresses similar feelings toward God, with this latest development only piling onto the torment he's experienced in his life (a few flashback scenes show his last resort solution -- at the age of 13 -- in dealing with an alcoholic and physically abusive father). That's unlike his wife (Radha Mitchell) who has unwavering faith in the Almighty (who she refers to as "Papa"), but worries that her husband is headed down a dark, one-way tunnel of self-destruction.

On cue, God comes knocking, not literally, as the invite for some salvation comes in the form of a letter that mysteriously appears in Mack's mailbox, encouraging him to head out to the shack in the woods where young Missy was apparently killed. Mack's neighbor (Tim McGraw) isn't sure that's a good idea.

But the angry man goes anyway and eventually gets to air his grievances not only with God/Papa (Octavia Spencer), but also Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) who all welcome him in calm, reassuring ways to spend the weekend with them in their cabin in the woods that looks like Martha Stewart was there for some decorating.

What follows are moments of Mack venting his anger and the three members of the Holy Trinity trying to explain how they operate. I'll give the film kudos for asking the tough questions that many people ask when faced with loss and injustice. Alas, the film offers no real answers beyond the usual platitudes including that one must simply believe and follow God and trust in "the system," so to speak.

Their non-specific and sometimes circular explanations eventually wear him down and he comes to believe in them, much like he all-too-simply forgives his daughter's killer who, in a completely ineffective bit of symbolism, appears as a lady bug who's released from his clenched fist and flies away.

Whether the devout buy into this representation of how God works will lie solely within their level and degree of faith and if they view the Bible as literal or open to interpretation (including having God appear as a woman and saying that, for all intents and purposes, the Holy Trinity is only around to provide post-traumatic support).

The biggest sin, however, and one that will require forgiveness from religious and secular viewers, is that for the most part and with only a few brief exceptions, the movie is dramatically inert, slow, and thus, yes, boring as all get out as it lumbers through its 130-plus minute runtime.

An understandably angry man taking on God and company should have been dramatically powerful, captivating and moving. But as presented here, it's anything but that. And with no real answers provided for the tough questions at hand, the entire offering ends up being a cinematic non-starter. "The Shack" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed March 2, 2017 / Posted March 3, 2017


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