By Yuri Kim
“The Shack,” a film adaptation based on the 2007 novel written by William P. Young, tells a very sentimental but nevertheless heart-rending tale of one man’s journey to redemption.
As in the novel, Mackenzie “Mack” Allen Phillips is a husband and father of three, including a daughter named Missy, living a middle class life in the suburbs.
However, Phillips’s tranquil and routine life is shattered when tragedy strikes during a family camping trip. Phillips’s youngest child, Missy, disappears, and they find that she is the latest victim of a serial killer.
The police affirm this when they find Missy’s torn dress and blood in a cabin. As a result, Phillips’s faith in God is shattered.
Even though time goes on, Phillips cannot get over this tragedy. His refusal to move on from Missy affects his relationships with his other children and his wife Nan.
Sam Worthington’s portrayal of Phillips saves what without his poignant performance, would be a corny movie. Worthington’s acting as an embattled father fighting guilt and misery who in the end finds faith in God again makes him a sympathetic character to viewers.
Octavia Spencer’s Papa serves as a strong female lead in the film. Her expressive portrayal of Papa adds much needed meaning to the film.
Papa is the pet name Phillips’s wife Nan uses for God. She sends a telegram to Phillips, who in turn goes to a cabin where he meets Papa and two other strangers.
Papa and the two other strangers, Jesus and the Holy Spirit played by Avraham Aviv Alush and Sumire Matsubara respectively, help Phillips learn to forgive.
The movie deviates from the novel, however, in that Missy’s abductor and murderer is never caught in this version. The Little Ladykiller, a serial killer who had claimed Missy as his latest victim, is never even featured in the film.
The fact that in the film that the serial killer is never caught causes a bit more of a struggle for Phillips to get closure than in the novel. Because the serial killer is never caught, Phillips will never know who took his daughter’s life.
Even with strong lead performances by Worthington and Spencer, the film fails to provide an in-depth introspection of the messages it is trying to project.
“The Shack” invokes well-meaning scenes but fails in its attempt to invest any sort of meaning that would mean something to viewers not already predisposed to the novel.
For example, the Great Sadness thoroughly described in the novel where Phillips turns away his family and friends because he is unable to get closure from Missy’s death is hastily and clumsily shown in the film.
What should have been a poignant representation of a father’s anger, grief and guilt over his child’s wrongful death is only glimpsed at in the film. The rather shallow scenes displaying the Great
Sadness fails to add the film’s heart-rending tone.
Nevertheless, the failure of the film’s direction is saved by strong lead performances and a mostly faithful script to the novel.