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Film review: The Shack – Octavia Spencer plays God in bland faith-based drama

An adaptation of a self-published novel that become a US bestseller, The Shack veers between the risible and the ludicrous, with bizarre scenes and unfunny in-jokes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 7:01am

1.5/5 stars

The Christian God is rarely shown figuratively in movies, and The Shack is a good example of why not. In Stuart Hazeldine’s film, the deity is played by Octavia Spencer as a cheerful, no-nonsense matriarch who’s temporarily hanging out in a house in the woods. As if that’s not mind-boggling enough, Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush) is depicted as a groovy guy with top-notch carpentry skills, and the Holy Spirit (Sumire Matsubara) as a Disney-esque heroine with all the answers.

The Shack is based on a self-published novel by Canadian author William P. Young. It was an unexpected bestseller, although religious commentators variously judged the tome heretical or just plain silly.

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The story focuses on a family man (Sam Worthington) whose young daughter is abducted and murdered by a serial killer. A mysterious note invites him to visit the site of the crime – the shack of the title – where he finds himself face-to-face with the Holy Trinity. The Trinity teach him about forgiveness.

The result lands somewhere between risible and ludicrous, and the film’s suffocating blandness would make this a better fit for cable TV, where the intended audience of undemanding Christian viewers could seek it out. On the big screen, its faults are magnified. A scene where the hero walks on water with Jesus is bizarre, and the in-jokes about the Trinity all being the same entity are just not funny.

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The moral thrust of the movie is light on scripture, and never gets deeper than we should forgive evil people because bad things in their past might have made them commit their crimes.

The Shack opens on April 20

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