The Shack (M)

In a word: Surreal

 The Shack1

Octavia Spencer stars as 'Papa' (God) and Sam Worthington as Mack in 'The Shack'. 

"It's a moving story which tackles head-on some of the hardest questions humanity faces while, at the same time, being an interesting exploration of theological concepts (although there's certainly some aspects many may wrestle with). But some of the answers come across as a little too pat and there are moments when Mack's acceptance of what he's being told seems to come a little too easily."

Why do bad things happen to good/innocent people? That question is at the heart of The Shack - based on Canadian William Paul Young's best-selling (and somewhat controversial) book of the same name - in which Mackenzie 'Mack' Phillips has the opportunity to put it directly to God.

Filled with pain and rage after his youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted and killed during a family camping trip, Mack (played by Sam Worthington) receives an unusual letter in the mail - one in which God purportedly invites him to meet up with him at the very shack where his daughter was believed to have been killed.

Not sure if it's a letter from God or the man who killed his daughter, Mack makes his way back to the shack but the encounter is not as he expects and he's brought face-to-face with 'Papa' (his wife's name for God), who here largely appears as an African-American woman played by Octavia Spencer, as well as her son Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) and the Holy Spirit, here named Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara).

They then take him on a journey in which he has to confront his own dark past (including his relationship with his abusive father) as well as come to terms with the death of his daughter and the impact it's had not just on him but his wife, Nan (Radha Mitchell), and their two other children, Josh (Gage Munroe), and, in particular, Kate (Megan Charpentier).

It's a moving story which tackles head-on some of the hardest questions humanity faces while, at the same time, being an interesting exploration of theological concepts (although there's certainly some aspects many may wrestle with). But some of the answers come across as a little too pat and there are moments when Mack's acceptance of what he's being told seems to come a little too easily.

While the acting is a bit hit and miss - Worthington generally does an able enough job as Mac although there are a few moments where his performance doesn't quite ring true and while Spencer, Alush and Matsubara manage to convey a sense of the Holy Trinity, their performances are lacking a little in power - one of the great strengths of the film is its luscious visuals. Director Stuart Hazeldine makes the most of the mountainous landscape in which the shack sits while at the same time giving a flower-saturated glimpse of heaven-on-earth.

The Shack offers a somewhat individualistic (dare we say Western?) view of what a relationship with God looks like but at the same time there is a strong sense of the importance of love, forgivess and trust. The film ends up lacking a bit of conviction at the end but, that said, there is enough in the story to engage even the most hardened of cynics to at least some degree.