We asked Andrew Maclean, Director of First Last Film to give us a first look at The Shack.
After two long years of waiting the UK finally got to see an early preview screening of the Stuart Hazeldine directed film ‘The Shack’.
Like many Christians, in fact like many people, I read the book of the same name back in the late noughties. It was written by William P Young originally as a story for his children at the behest of his wife. A few months after she issued the request Young arrived with pile of notepads filled with a handwritten novel. She’d been expecting a 2 page short story!
Having shown it to some pastors Young eventually self-published with the help of those same pastors.
When Opera Winfrey picked up the book for her show the book became a phenomenon all of it’s own. It was the number one New York Times best seller for 70 weeks, sold over 10 million copies and was translated into a plethora of different languages.
I was working at UK Christian Film Festival when rumours of The Shack movie started to leak. We were understandably excited. Christian film has become synonymous with bad writing, low budgets and a cast of family and friends.
My struggle with Christian films is often that they don’t know their market. They seem to want to be evangelical but don’t want to speak authentically to a non-Christian audience. They all-too-often end up preaching to the choir. Teaching Christians the basic tenants of the faith.
What a waste of time.
I started to fear the film would be a saccharine sweet lullaby which didn’t attempt to grasp some of the tougher elements of the book.
My fears were misplaced.
Hazeldine’s film does not fall into this well worn trap. The Shack is a surprising film. It tells a tough story of child abduction and murder, as well as alcoholism, child abuse and church hypocrisy. The solution is not ‘I went to church and then it was all fine’. Quite the opposite. Our hero already goes to church and stands silently as his wife sings her heart out to her ‘Papa’.
Many theologians have had problems with The Shack. There are lots of good reasons for these misgivings and the internet is laden with them so I shan’t take up any more space voicing those concerns here.
Instead I will strongly suggest you go to see this little gem of a film. It carries a massive budget ($20 million), an astonishing cast including Sam Worthington, (Terminator Salvation, Avatar, Clash of the Titans) Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) and country music star Tim McGraw. In this world of superhero films this was a huge number three at the US box office bringing in over $80 million dollars.
The performances of Octavia Spencer (‘Papa’) and Avrahim Aviv Alush (Jesus) were particularly captivating, generous performances. They seemed to really give of themselves and allow the audience in to meet their characters.
Producer Gil Netter has a raft of film hits to their name including the visually stunning Life of Pi and brings this same cinematic extravagance to The Shack.
Despite all of this The Shack feels like a little film. An intimate place to nestle in and meet God again. One person at the screening said they felt as though they had ‘…been born again, again’.
The film reminded me of my first love of God. The intimacy of the first touch of The Holy Spirit in my life. The fun and sincere friendship of Jesus. It asked me to look at my friendships and family and asked where I had pulled away from God. Some of these weren’t comfortable questions. It wasn’t always a comfortable film, and rightly so given it’s subject matter. I wept, as I do in films, but was surprised to see that almost the entire audience was in floods by the end. But it felt like genuine emotion rather than a manipulation of film.
If the sign of a good film is that you come out having ‘felt’ then the sign of a great film is that you come out changed. Those I went to this screening with each seemed to go on their own journey as the film played and came out with a renewed or changed relationship with themselves and God.
Surely this is the highest accolade of any film?