By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
Propaganda is a negative connotation used in filmmaking when someone believes that a film was made just to shove their ideals, religion, and political standpoints down our throats. Stuart Hazeldine’s The Shack does not fall into this category in my opinion because the messages of the film are ideas that we can take away as a culture and implement a lot more often in our overcrowded society. However, that doesn’t save it from its atrocious use of technical filmmaking revolving around cinematic design, screenplay construction, shot design and shot composition. Instead, John Fusco and Andrew Lanham present a screenplay that centers around a grieving man who endured a rough upbringing himself, who then receives a personal invitation from the Almighty God, played by Octavia Spencer, to meet a place called The Shack.
The Shack presents itself as a thought-provoking dramatic journey filled with theological messages that revolve around love, trust, relationships, judgment, and forgiveness. These meaning and messages are utilized to their full potential to help those who are followers of the faith to rethink their outlooks on relationships and their individual approaches to life itself. However, the presentation itself is monotonous and drastically lacking significance as about why this film was made and its importance to the director and screenwriters to display their reasoning before us. Taking a glance at Stuart Hazeldine’s direction might reveal itself to be insightful, but a deeper examination reveals the shot design to be lethargic with his shot layout, sticking to a strict and hackneyed style that revolves around medium shots that never echoes the tone of the film. The direction instead drives you away from the movie’s message with multiple non-centered shots that shine as examples as to why Stuart Hazeldine’s direction is a terrible sign of his future in filmmaking.
The cinematography itself is glossy, which is considerably sensible when used to film the scenes that take place in the symbolic representation of heaven. This design is used as well during the other portions of the film that revolve around tragedy are designed as glossy as well which is once again tonally conflictual which is where this movie truly falls apart aside from its clichés Christianity film tropes. The Shack struggles on maintaining a reflective and balanced tone that not only serves as a substantial infrastructure that builds upon itself with a competent script. Instead, the tone is consistently struggling to create an engaging environment and failing to resonate completely. The stereotypical beats that it hits are repetitious as in comparison to the past, feel good, Christianity’s films from Pure Flix studios and Sherwood Pictures.
With an imitating screenplay that duplicates the characterizations of its main protagonists and replicates the past presentations of the narrative styles. As a man of faith who expresses my passion for filmmaking at all times, I can’t honestly support the aspects of filmmaking used in these films. The lackadaisical direction that works in tandem with the humdrum screenplay to create films with enchanting messages averts these stories from becoming classic examples of the expressions and applications of the art of filmmaking. The performances are dreary as well with Sam Worthington once again displaying his lack of range as an actor.
However, Octavia Spencer provides a warm and heartwarming performance that entices me just to pull up a chair and share a cup of hot coffee with her in this lovely location. Avraham Aviv Alush contributes to the movie as well with a sympathetic and affectionate portrayal of Jesus, who just coaxes me into desiring to welcome him with a warm embrace. The rest of the depictions of these characters are tragically abysmal with Radha Mitchell and Tim McGraw standing out the most, both failing to provide a semblance of believability with an emotionless and stale performance of a wife and apparently a close a friend. The engulfing of these cinematic flaws emulate the absence of skilled filmmaking throughout the one hundred and thirty-two minutes run time of this detached drama.
Though its message is fundamental and inspiring and especially agreeable from the standpoint of faith for me, The Shack fails to declare itself as a talented illustration of filmmaking. As a man of faith The Shack almost galvanizes me begin critically and analytically review this genre of filmography, to hopefully inspire others to reach a point of Mel Gibson or Martin Scorsese who have both conceived thought provoking and artistically crafted films based on faith and its essential messages. No genre of art should ever be visited as good enough for the type that is targeted towards the intended audience, instead establish a story that can reach those who haven’t discovered that faith and present to them the truth of Christ. If we cannot begin to reach out to those people through conceivable and intriguing aspects of the narrative, then how can we expect the Gospel to become the notion of normality and the eradication of sin?