This is shaping up to be the year of the character.
Many of the films I’ve reviewed are concerned more with crafting likeable characters, rather than the instances that befall them. Character-driven stories appeal to writers like myself, especially, as we know that well-established characters that the audience can relate to are the backbone of any memorable story. The same holds true here; The Shack builds characters that the audience can align themselves with, filling the mold with their own life experiences in order to envelope them in the on-screen story. While much of the plot takes place—or, perhaps, doesn’t take place—in protagonist Mack (Sam Worthington)’s mind, there’s a real message there, much along the same lines of A Christmas Carol. It’s a message about the human condition and what it means to not just be a Believer, but to be a person, living our lives on this planet we all share.
Delving into more heavy-handed language and visuals at times, the story of The Shack takes, more or less, an intangible subject and makes it real for the protagonist witnessing it. In translating the book (which I hadn’t known about beforehand, but may check out) to screen, the filmmakers had to figure how best to take this central idea of loss and forgiveness and have it resonate with people outside the Faith, too. In that, they do well, giving faces and voices to these very real and universal wonderings of Man. The film also talks around all these different faiths that exist in the world; whatever “God” means to you, personally, can’t take form until you give it form—He (or She) is faceless, until a face is given, toward which you can direct your thoughts and cares. In a universe as vast as ours, it’s our own sense of direction and faith in the invisible that gives us the hope and the strength to move forward. That’s what this film is about: finding one’s direction when it’s been lost.
Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer perform their roles spectacularly. Worthington’s is a space we can each fill with our own inadequacies and heartaches—the relatability that I’ve spoken at such length about. Spencer shines as always; seems like her year, with a critically-acclaimed (if a little underappreciated, during Awards season) supporting role in Hidden Figures, a smaller voice credit in Zootopia, an upcoming credit in next month’s Gifted—alongside Chris Evans—as well as a continuation of her character from the Divergent series. Her career has certainly come a long way since 2011’s The Help. Avraham Aviv Alush in the role of Jesus is light and intelligent, as well, carrying every scene he’s in. He creates a loveable, believable presence on-screen.
Likewise, the cinematography, score and soundtrack are incredible. Tim McGraw and fellow performer and wife, Faith Hill, created the theme of the film—heard in its entirety during the end credits—and the score is just as simple, yet poignant, throughout the rest of the film’s run-time. Filmed on-location in British Columbia, the peak of the Canadian summer was captured on film, making for a gorgeous and serene backdrop that complements the message of the film perfectly. As I said, it can get a bit preachy at times, but its message is, at heart, timeless and without religion.
I give Stuart Hazeldine’s The Shack a ****/* ‘Risk Assessment. This is a good family film, or one to take a youth group to see—an overall-light piece that teaches hope and the power of relationships at a time when it is needed most.
Next review: TBA