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Courtesy of Summit Entertainment

March 31, 2017

A Shack, a Sermon and a Film Critic

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I am going to be honest: I scour movie reviews obsessively. If a movie receives a bad review, or say a rotten tomatoes score of less than 50% or 60%, the chances of me seeing it are absurdly low. When my friends wanted to go see “Fifty Shades Darker,” I would not go. It got a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes! I suppose that may make me a “movie snob,” but I want to go to the movies to see good movies.

However, it is important to take movie reviews with a grain of salt. The pundit class is not always correct about what people will do or like. Interestingly, this has been exactly the case with The Shack. While the critics ranked it with an extremely low 21% on the “Tomatometer,” the audience gave it 85%. That is a bizarrely large gap. Normally the critic and audience percentages vary by no more than 10%. I would never want to see a 21% movie, but would go to almost every movie with a high rating. For reference, movies on the 85% caliber are “Lion” or “Hacksaw Ridge,” both of which were nominated for the Academy Awards Best Picture.

So, I did something a little crazy. I went to go see The Shack and decide for myself why critics ranked it so low and the audience so high.

Truthfully, The Shack does not fall under the variety of movies I would normally be drawn to. It is essentially a two hour-long Christian sermon. Reviewer Chris Nashawaty summarized The Shack perfectly:  “It’s one of those movies where you’ll either decide to give in right away and sob for two hours straight or opt to fight it while your resentment slowly simmers to a rolling boil.” My experience with the movie was the latter.

The film is based off of the New York Times best-selling novel The Shack, by William P. Young. Moviegoers first see a young boy, Mack, and his complex relationship with his father. After an intense ten minutes or so, the film fast-forwards to Mack as a happily married adult with three children. This part of the film was almost annoying for me. Mack and his family seemed too perfect. The children did everything they were told and seemed happy all of the time. They were seriously religious, with the youngest girl, Missy, even requesting the family to pray more. All of their outfits were colorful and flowers seemed to be blooming everywhere. The children’s acting seemed a bit forced, and they just could not wait to go to church! And hear a spooky Indian Princess story! I have not met a child who would act remotely like this.

Young Amélie Eve did an outstanding job in her role as Missy. As mentioned above, Missy was a little bit annoying and too perfect at times, but less so than the other children. She was so cute! I think little Missy might have been my favorite part of the entire film.

Without giving away too much, I will say that tragedy strikes early in the film and Missy is no longer present in the story. The rest of the film centers around Mack, who is played by Sam Worthington. Worthington does a respectable job playing a depressed father questioning his entire life and Christian faith.

After some spooky notes were delivered to Mack, he was led to Papa/God, played by Octavia Spencer. Spencer looked beautiful in the film and could not have done a better job in her role. After Mack meets Papa, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the film continues to essentially be sermon after sermon. Mack does ask tough questions, but Papa never truly answers them. Granted, questions, such as “Why do you allow young children to be murdered?” do not have clear answers. The Shack leaves the audience with a lot to think about.    

I did not think the cinematography was exceptional at all. It was not bad, but nothing caught my eye. The film certainly could have been enhanced with stronger visuals.

I suspect that the majority of the people who loved The Shack were already fans of the book. If this describes you, then I highly encourage you to see the movie. I did not love it, but definitely understand why so many people do.

Or, maybe go see it just to judge it for yourself. The critics gave The Shack a low rating, but audiences have been raving.

Becky Frank is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at rnf33@cornell.edu.

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