"The Shack" is a beautiful, profound, and moving film. I'm a lifelong movie fan and I always look at reviews before I go to see movies. Of course I went to Rotten Tomatoes and saw that "The Shack" had received uniformly bad reviews. There is something wrong with the critics who panned this movie. They probably have a problem with Christianity. I think if a similar film had been made in Iran, about Islam, with English subtitles, it would receive an Academy Award nomination. Don't let these bitter, twisted souls keep you from seeing "The Shack."
The plot is simple. Mack, (Sam Worthington), an American husband and father, suffers an unbearable loss. He and other family members sink into depression. One day, Mack receives an invitation to return to the shack, the site of the worst moment of Mack's life. He does return, and there he meets spiritual guides played by Octavia Spencer, Aviv Alush, Sumire Matsubara, Graham Greene, and Alice Braga (niece of Sonya Braga). Mack engages in conversation with these spiritual entities. He eventually returns to normal life with a changed outlook.
The film gets off to a rocky start. There is an unnecessary and amateurish voiceover narration by country music star Tim McGraw, who stars as Mack's friend. Otherwise, though, McGraw is excellent onscreen, displaying an understated charisma and authenticity that are totally beyond the film's actual star, Sam Worthington. In fact I wish Tim McGraw had played Mack and Sam Worthington had played the best friend.
Too, there are many shifts in time in the opening scenes. There are flashbacks on top of flashbacks and a shocking crime that the movie never makes much use of. Once the movie gets started, about fifteen minutes in, it gets good.
Sam Worthington is okay as Mack. The thing is, his Australian accent is evident in virtually every word he speaks. Again, I wish the filmmakers had made McGraw the star.
Radha Mitchell is good looking but chilly as Mack's wife. She looks like a movie star, not like a wife, and that took away from the film for me.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Octavia Spencer is assigned to play an almost impossible part, and she handles it with great professionalism and depth. Aviv Alush is especially good. Moviegoers have waited a long time for a star like this to play this part, and he knocks it out of the park.
The production values are high. The scenery is lush. I was especially moved by how this family-friendly film handles the tragedy at the center of Mack's depression and alienation from God. The exact words are never used. Graphic images are never shown. Yet we know exactly what happened, and it breaks our hearts and causes us to ask the same questions that Mack asks.
Either you want to see a movie where an average man works out how to deal with unbearable tragedy or you don't. Me, I loved sitting there watching Mack wrestle with his pain and his faith. Many self-identified Christians hate this movie with a white hot hatred. Big name Christian leaders have denounced it as heretical. One man told me that seeing the movie would be the equivalent of shooting heroin.
It think these folks are wearing their shorts much too tight. The film is an allegory. Any thinking person who has been through pain has had the same questions as Mack, and anyone who has read the Bible or other spiritual literature has pondered the same potential answers. I sincerely doubt that any filmgoer is going to leave the theater thinking that he or she has actually seen God onscreen, or heard God's thoughts about human tragedy. Rather, like any good allegory, the film sets us on our own path of spiritual exploration. That's a very good thing.