What the blazes was all that? Feels like I've just come out of a religious revivalist meeting. If yesterday's 'Gifted' was an ordeal to sit through this one was like having one's teeth extracted sans anesthetic!
Had no idea it would be on this 'God-is-the-answer-to-everything' level. Now I almost feel polluted.
I wouldn't care but the first three-quarters of an hour (of two and a quarter) seemed like it would be a straight-forward, though unexceptional, thriller. Sam Worthington, the survivor of a childhood blighted by his violent, on-the-bottle father, is now married with three children - and is haunted by the occasion when the family is on a camping trip, his youngest, a five-year old daughter, is abducted and disappears, presumed murdered. There's now also an emotional distance between him and his other two children, now adolescent. Then he gets a mysterious typed note which appears to be from his deceased father saying that they can meet at an old wooden hut in the woods ('The Shack') which he knew as a boy. With no idea who this could really be from he decides to go, ready armed, with some suspicion that this might be connected to his taken daughter. He arrives - and this is where the weirdness sets in for basically the remaining two thirds of the film. He's guided from the snow-bound shack to, within just a few yards, a flowery, sun-drenched landscape in which there's a large house peopled by three very strange individuals which he comes round to assuming are manifestations of...........God! A kindly, maternal figure in the form of Octavia Spencer (who was also in yesterday's 'Gifted' but here in a much more substantial role) - and her two adult 'children', a young woman - and a bearded young man named......Jesus, who can, incidentally, walk on water!
His confusion is, well, understandable ("Am I dead?" he asks) - and all three of them at every twist and turn of his many questions spout forth Godly aphorisms about him and his life - and they seem to know all there is to know, while he maintains how could a 'good' God allow to happen what did to his daughter? He's gently rebuked on his rush to judgment.
And it doesn't end there. With the house as his base, he explores its proximities, meeting with another mysterious woman who lectures him on wisdom and knowledge and judgment again (this goes on far too long) during which he sees his missing daughter in a vision as well as his one-time abusive father, now with effusive apologies for his conduct. Then an older oriental-type man appears who instructs him that he cannot advance in his life until he forgives and lets go. Are you still with me? - because I came ever so close to walking out and blowing a loud raspberry on my exit.
I wouldn't have minded so much if there'd been something original in the many pithy platitudes. Standing back I cannot truly say that it's all bilge even though I might prefer to. It just sounded like an interminable homily praising the goodness of this 'Supreme Being' (The film seems to take it as read that we all believe in such, though here it's not identified with any particular 'brand' and would work just as well for both Christian and non-Christian theists alike).
In the film's brief epilogue which I most reluctantly awaited, I was counting on there being some resolution to the riddle of what actually happened to the little girl and who did it. But no - it appears that the cure-all for what was wrong in his life was forgiveness, and by practising it his family was then drawn together as a close-knit 'traditional' family unit - two loving parents (M and F, but of course!) with a teenage son and slightly younger daughter - and to live happily ever after, one assumes.
Frankly, there were moments in this film where I just wanted to puke - and, I repeat, not because I strongly disagreed with the sentiments (and, boy, is it sentimental!) which I don't - but because it's all delivered in such hyper-sanctimonious fashion that I've no doubt that Pope Frankie himself would give the film his holy incense-infused blessing.
It must surely be that the entire cast of this curiosity, as well as all the behind-camera staff, were 'on message'. I can't imagine anyone at odds with the sentiments delivered wanted to, or were even allowed, to work on it.
Director Stuart Hazeldine has only made one other full-length feature before, the very good 'Exam' of 2009. (He also made a short film entitled 'Christian' which, I guess, speaks for itself). I can only hope that with his next major effort he returns to territory more 'entertaining' and leave the unctuous sermonising to others so that mugs like me who fall into the trap can avoid it and not find ourselves paying for the undesired experience........................1.
1 hour ago