Friday, 9 June 2017

Movie Review: The Shack (2017)

This film isn’t getting an introduction. It doesn’t deserve an introduction. And hopefully, by the end of this review, you’ll understand why because a shocking lack of people seem to see this film for what it truly is. Let’s get this shit over and done with because I am legitimately getting more pissed the more brain power I have to devote to it. This is The Shack.

The plot: Mack (Sam Worthington), after the death of his daughter Missy, has fallen into a deep depression. Having lost his connection with God since the tragic event, a mysterious letter arrives at his doorstep with an invitation to the shack where he lost his daughter and possibly talk with God. Not having anything to lose, he accepts and makes his way to the shack where he meets Papa (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Sumire), who set him on a path to overcome his grief and reconnect with his faith.

While I mourn these actors being connected to a story like this, the cast here is at least decent. Worthington gives one of his better performances here, as he definitely sells the grief and raw anger his character goes through; of course, this is still the blandness of Worthington we’re dealing with here, so while it’s better than his usual, it still isn’t all that good. Spencer, while definitely an interesting casting choice as the father of all fathers, brings her usual soulful delivery that helps the tepid dialogue she’s been given sit a lot easier than it would have otherwise, same with Aviv Alush and Sumire. Graham Greene, despite how nice it is seeing him in a mainstream film again, is problematic in his existence within the story as the male version of Octavia Spencer, saying that Mack “needs a father” for the final step of absolving his grief. So much for being progressive. Alice Braga as ‘Wisdom’ may provide the role with the grandeur that it likely calls for, but the fact that she serves as the linchpin for one of the single worst scenes in the film doesn’t make her look any better regardless. McGraw, who was casted for reasons I doubt even the Almighty could make sense of, serves as our narrator and best bud of the main character and he fills both roles with only a baseline amount of effort.

I sure hope you like melodramatic and highly questionable Lifetime shenanigans because, for the whole first act, the film doesn’t relent in delivering its spoiled goods to the audience. Starting out with a flashback of Mack’s childhood, where his father is an abusive drunk because stereotyping like this is dead fucking easy, and there’s even a moment where it seems that Mack poisons his father’s liquor bottles with strychnine. I don’t know what’s weirder: This scene existing in the film at all or the fact that it is never referenced again past the initial scene. You’d think attempted or possibly committed murder would play into the film’s ideas of sin and absolution of said sin, but nope; it’s just there to provide cheap pseudo-drama. Beyond that, we have the crucial scene where Mack loses his daughter, set against him risking his life to save his other children and then her just disappearing afterwards. Admittedly, the scene where we find what ended up happening to her is incredibly chilling, aided by Worthington absolutely selling the emotions of the scene brilliantly, but with the way it’s framed, it feels like this is going to turn into a Christian version of A Serious Man where Mack will actively question God on just how much of this deserved to happen. Oh, if only this film dared to ask questions; maybe then, we could have avoided the ugliness that I’m about to get into.

Then we get to the titular Shack (the place where Mack’s daughter was found, no less) and he meets with Papa, Jesus and Sarayu, representing the Holy Trinity. Now, as I’ve said before, I find the idea of Man directly interacting with their God(s) to be rather fascinating and it opens itself up to many rather interesting approaches to the idea. Unfortunately, what we end up getting is somewhere on the lower rungs of Christian apologetics. Now, to be fair, I again should bring up that Spencer does very well in the role of the Almighty, and her discussion with Mack about her/his son’s crucifixion results in a rather poignant statement, showing that she/he was indeed hurt herself by the act. However, that is only a small nugget in a bucket of reluctance to get into the really tough questions. Now, me personally, I always assumed that the question of “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” boils down to us passing more of the blame onto God that we should be placing on each other. Sure, natural disasters could probably use some justifying, if for no other reason than to stop human idiots from providing their own inane justifications, but for the most part, tragedies come from the hands of other humans. Not that the film even gets that far into things, merely hand-waving all those tricky dilemmas away with the general notion that God is all good, just trust me. Sorry if this rustles the jimmies of my more religious readers, but that simply isn’t good enough. I believe in beings taking responsibility for their actions, regardless of their position, and that questioning one’s higher-ups makes for a healthier and saner civilization; accepting this at face value is incredibly patronizing, especially when directed at someone who is going through one of the worst tragedies a parent can go through. If the film bothered to go properly in-depth and actually explain things rather than just leading Mack on for 2 hours, this might have worked but as presented here, it falls hideously short.

But enough about the theological side of things; what about Mack’s journey of overcoming his pain? Well, by some unholy miracle, this is the point where the film officially began to piss me off. For a start, this film operates under a similar mindset as War Room, in that it believes that it is less a matter of the guilty being taken to account for their actions and more that the victims must forgive those that wronged them. I get the idea of moral absolution; hell, I honestly believe that with enough personal culpability, intent and maybe a bit of luck, anyone can be forgiven for their sins. However, we never get to see the man who killed Mack’s daughter. We never get the impression that he will receive due punishment for what he did wrong, just another vague hand-wave, even though Missy wasn't his first victim and likely isn't his last either. All the focus is placed on Mack being able to get over losing his daughter. But that isn’t even the worst of it. The worst of it comes when Mack talks with ‘Wisdom’, who gives him a chance to be the Judge. Basically, she tries to equate him wanting retribution for what the man did to his daughter to playing God and thinking that he can pass judgement despite unseen circumstances, showing a picture of the killer’s father treating him badly as a child which directly led to his later actions. While once again showing that no-one in this film’s universe, not even God, should take responsibility for the things they do, this also leads into a moment where Wisdom asks Mack to put his supposed station into practice and pass judgement on his two remaining children, Kate and Josh. He is told that he must choose one to go to Hell and one to go to Heaven. All because he thinks that a murderer should be held accountable for what they did. With the Cardinal Pell case still going on as I type this, along with other instances of organized religion and child abuse crossing paths, I get the feeling that this mindset, conveniently ignoring those who harm children and putting more blame on the affected than those responsible, is literally the last thing we need right now.

All in all, this is a bunch of good and potentially noble ideas delivered in the most horrifying way possible. The acting is decent and there are a couple of moments that hit home in terms of exploring the more problematic side of an all-knowing deity, but between the smugness of the film’s idea of the workings of God (and how we should just accept it and not question anything) and the utter nonsense involving Mack’s character arc, I am legitimately angry that this film exists. It tries to push for a more spiritual and philosophical approach to worship and God, but only ends up supported some of the biggest problems concerning organized religion. The fact that it juxtaposes the Christian approach to forgiveness (and people not taking actual responsibility for their own transgressions) next to a serial child murderer, and end up completely ignoring the larger implications of where the two intersect, makes this heinous in a way I didn’t even think was possible. I can’t believe I’m typing this but, yeah, this is worse than Collateral Beauty. Collateral Beauty may have had a similar problem with excusing vile attitudes as being sympathetic, but at least there, the extent of the damage done is to a single person. Here? With the court case involving the Catholic Church sexually abusing children still going on, with my home country inexorably linked into it, this film is symptomatic of a far greater problem. I have no patience for any media that echoes the idea of focusing less on the actual monsters and more on forgiving them for their sins, even if they themselves aren’t repentant, i.e. the attitude that allowed such atrocities to go on for as long as they have. I’m not asking for censorship and that this be removed from cinemas or anything; I’m just asking for someone, anyone, involved with this trash to put two and two together and realize just how sickening the core sentiment they’re advocating for ultimately is.

3 comments:

  1. After strolling this site I now understand why no one else is commenting on this site.

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  2. Replies
    1. After getting one too many spam comments, I set it to moderated... still getting them, but now, they're ALL I'm getting.

      Yeah, point made.

      Delete