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The Shack

God moves in mysterious ways. In Stuart Hazeldine's drama, The Lord manifests as an African-American woman, who bakes a mean apple pie, enjoys the music of Neil Young and overflows with divine wisdom about the suffering of the modern world. "Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies," She professes. The Shack is adapted from William P Young's 2007 novel and chronicles one grief-stricken father's spiritual journey, which culminates in a miraculous encounter with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The film's intentions are entirely honourable and core messages of forgiveness and understanding will strike a chord with audiences of any faith. Unfortunately, each life lesson is delivered with an exceedingly heavy hand and the three scriptwriters shamelessly manipulate our emotions with a deluge of sentiment, sprinkled with dramatic cliches. Faith and tolerance are preached by megaphone and each character's catharsis feels contrived to ensure teary-eyed audience members are repeatedly reaching for tissues. Subtlety and inference have no place in director Hazeldine's filmmaking bible. As a boy, Mackenzie Phillips (Carson Reaume) suffers grievously at the hands of his deeply religious, booze-sodden father (Derek Hamilton), who punishes each act of defiance with lashes of a leather belt. A benevolent next-door neighbour (Octavia Spencer) dries the boy's tears, confiding that "Daddies aren't supposed to do that to their kids. It ain't love". Many years later, Mac (now played by Sam Worthington) has an awkward relationship with God but still attends church with his wife Nan (Radha Mitchell) and cherubic children, Kate (Megan Charpentier), Josh (Gage Munroe) and Missy (Amelie Eve). A summer expedition to Wallowa State Lake Park culminates in tragedy and Mac is consumed by guilt. He refuses to articulate his pain, shutting out Nan as well as the children. At his lowest ebb, Mac receives a typewritten letter that reads: "I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together." The note is signed Papa, Nan's affectionate name for God. Intrigued by the mysterious communication, Mac returns to the scene of his greatest pain, where he meets Papa (Spencer), her son Jesus (Aviv Alush) and the spirit Sarayu (Sumire). "Why did you bring me back here?" Mackenzie asks. "Because he's where you got stuck," Papa replies serenely. The Shack sermonises heartfelt and simple messages at a plodding pace that often feels like wading through emotional treacle. Too many plot points are left unexplained or referenced in passing, including the fate of Mac's abusive father, as Worthington goes through the motions, shedding salt water on cue to composer Aaron Zigman's score. In one sequence, Mac and Jesus walk on water, side by -side, as part of his reawakening. Alas, we are left to drown.