Sam Worthington is Mack, a Midwestern God-fearing husband (to Mitchell) and father of three kids. The family attends church every Sunday but Mack isn't feeling it, refusing to sing along with the hymns. He's beset with guilt over poisoning his abusive father when he was a young boy, something he feels God is punishing him for when youngest daughter Missy (Amélie Eve) is abducted by a suspected child murderer. Unable to shake the feelings of hate and dread, Mack, after receiving a mysterious invitation, returns to the shack where they found Missy's bloodied clothes. There he finds God (Spencer), Jesus (Alush) and the Holy Spirit (Samire Matsubara) waiting for him…
Hot on the heels of faith movies Miracles From Heaven and Collateral Beauty, The Shack, adapted from William P. Young's novel, promises something more. It's certainly a more morally complex outing with a protagonist reeling from a deep-rooted guilt (oddly, the fallout from this murder is never explored beyond Mack's remorse), and his burning hatred for the man who took his daughter. Also, Jesus claims that "religion is too much work": he just wants friends. Mack is determined not to let God off the hook, telling Her that, while he somewhat understands that She couldn't get involved once the events were set in motion, She saw it coming from a long way off and did nothing to stop it. God also admits to a mistake, allowing humans to have the capacity to judge good and evil. Okay, this is a faith movie that's easier to get on board with.
But the promise that Mack and God will engage in a series of running philosophical and spiritual battles, with the haunted father raging at a cold, distant deity that insists it loves all Her children, even the child murderers, is soon reneged on. All the important questions Mack has, all his justified pointed barbs, are dismissed with a smile and the same vague comments about faith and love and mysterious ways and a grand plan we can't possibly understand. But this is where we came in. There is no different angle here. This is a film that appeals to those who have faith only.
Its attempts at fun – God likes reggae and Neil Young; Jesus and Mack sprinting across the water – are at best cringe-inducing but the narrative really comes undone when Mack is introduced to Wisdom (Alice Braga) in a cave. He's allowed to be the judge for once, with Wisdom asking if his father deserves to be in hell for what he did (yes, Mack reckons), before pointing out that Mack's father was turn beaten by his grandfather (okay, it explains his actions but doesn't excuse them, but okay). But then Mack is presented with judging his kids and told to choose between sending one of his kids to hell and one to heaven. Wait, what? How did we get here? Why and how is this relevant? That this line of reasoning is the real turning point in Mack's journey to forgiving his daughter's killer, the moment the story hinges on, then things begin to really creak.