Review – The Shift (2023)

the shift poster

Overview

Synopsis Kevin's life is uprooted when a strange "Benefactor" abducts him from his life and traps in him in a dystopian alternative universe where he struggles to understand why God would let him suffer.

Length 1 hour, 55 minutes

Release Date December 1, 2023

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Angel Studios

Directing Brock Heasley

Writing Brock Heasley

Composition Dan Haseltine, Matthew S. Nelson

Starring Kristoffer Polaha, Neal McDonough, Elizabeth Tabish, Rose Reid, Sean Astin

The rise and success of Angel Studios has been nothing short of miraculous. The Chosen’s premiere in 2017 and subsequent rise to mainstream success—being renewed for at least three additional seasons, being regularly shown in theaters to large audiences, and getting syndicated to the CW Network—marks one of the largest entertainment successes for Christian storytelling in the past half-decade. This was followed in the summer of 2023 by their film Sound of Freedom, becoming one of the most successful films of the summer blockbuster season. The fledgling studio is now branching into new genres and expanding with its newest film The Shift.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: PG-13 action violence; shooting, and blood depicted .
Language/Crude Humor: Limited coarse language.
Drug/Alcohol References: Several scenes of characters drinking beer.
Sexual Content: None.
Spiritual Content: The movie is explicitly Christian and loosely adapted from the Biblical Book of Job.
Other Negative Content: None.
Positive Content: Themes of overcoming selfishness, thinking of others, and trusting God in the most difficult moments of life.

Review

In the aftermath of the mega success and controversy of The Sound of Freedom earlier this year, Angel Studios is slowly beginning to release more movies to expand the empire created by The Chosen. They’re currently working on several movies, including biopics about St. Francis Cabrini and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and released a Biblical drama this year about the life of Abraham and Isaac called His Only Son

The newest film they’ve released is a curious and ambitious faith-based science fiction film called The Shift, which has been much ballyhooed as a loose adaptation of the Book of Job set against a multiversal story about special agents who gain the ability to “shift” between different universes while fighting a dark power that wants to control the multiverse.

The story follows a failed Wall Street investor named Kevin, who loses his job when Bear Stearns is hit hard by the market and leaves him without work. While his life does improve for the better when he falls in love with a beautiful woman and begins a family with her, his life is destroyed when a mysterious being called “the Benefactor” kidnaps him and transports him to another universe. In this foreign reality, a small remnant of humanity lives under the control of a brutal dystopian dictatorship, leaving Kevin with little hope for finding his way home.

The film’s connection to Job is somewhat thin at times. Instead of just being a story about a man losing everything and grappling with the pain of horrific loss, the movie literalizes the concept by just having his life taken away from him by direct intervention from a seemingly supernatural being. 

The movie does frequently quote the scriptures and make direct allusions, having his friends question what kind of good God would abandon them to such a fate and making it clear that the Benefactor is some kind of Satanic figure, but the metaphor is intermittently blunt and thin—getting somewhat lost in the logistics of its Total Recall/Matrix inspired setting. 

The Christian subtext is beaten over the audience with the grace of a mallet, much as is to be expected by the “Christian” film genre, as the movie makes it clear early on that these events have spiritual implications. The Benefactor has similar goals to the Biblical Satan, but his dialogue and mode of speaking are far more grounded and direct. He directly asks Kevin to join him and pledge allegiance to his cause. He has long soliloquies about the virtue of selfishness and how the extent of his power over the multiverse is proof that God is evil.

That said, people familiar with the biblical story don’t need to put much effort into guessing where this is going—particularly with the film’s ending. The movie occasionally uses its premise to conjure interesting ideas or scenes, with its high concept premise excusing the film to play around with the toys in its sandbox, but never really elevates its premise into something wildly original or tightly crafted. 

Naturally, the movie is populated with a cast drawn from faith-film regulars, including Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings), Jason Marsden (Blue Like Jazz), Neal McDonough (Left Behind: Rise Of The Antichrist), and multiple cast members from The Chosen. Lead actor and practicing Christian Kristoffer Polaha even joins the film fresh off major blockbusters Wonder Woman 1984 and Jurassic Park Dominion.

Controversially, the film also carries over Angel Studios’ controversial marketing strategies. The Shift ends in a similar pay-it-forward scheme to the one that Sound of Freedom used, which resulted in thoughts of theaters being fully booked to largely empty crowds in a supposed effort to spread the film’s message. I’m not sure if Angel Studios has updated how they go about their process, but their prior efforts weren’t without controversy—making it very difficult to gauge its commercial success when thousands of guests appeared to be subsidizing empty movie theaters. One can hope Angel Studios has a more robust ticket distribution strategy for The Shift if it wants to continue this style of promotion.

Your tolerance for a movie like The Shift will depend on how much you can handle or enjoy its premise. Its overly proselytizing religious themes and SyFy original movie level of production design leave it as a film that doesn’t only specifically appeal to a specific margin of Christian viewers, but its ambition at least makes it more tolerable than other films like it. It lacks the creative muscles or nuance to break out into the masses but could prove engaging for the right crowd. I enjoyed it more than I assumed I would, but I can imagine many of my friends would find it frustrating.

Positives

+ Solid performances
+ Ambitious themes about God, selfishness, and suffering

Negatives

- Blunt storytelling and overt religious messaging
- Cheap looking production design/cinematography

The Bottom Line

The Shift suffers from the flaws most "Christian" films suffer from, but an ambitious premise and solid performances slightly elevate it above its genre, despite its very low budget and cheap production design.

 

7.3

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

5 Comments

  1. Chris on December 27, 2023 at 5:29 pm

    Neal McDonough Wow what an actor. This movie is just great to watch reminds me a-lot of the story of Job. God will use this movie to shake foundations i can see it clear as day.

  2. Smedlap on December 23, 2023 at 11:28 am

    I enjoy Greek and Norse mythology much more. It’s less derivative than Christian mythology.

  3. Elizabeth Wallace on December 18, 2023 at 6:41 am

    I’m surprised but far from disappointed to see this review! I often end up feeling like Christian media has a cult following and I must be a bad Christian when I find it blunt and unsatisfying at best. The Shift was better than most but I genuinely think that Christian films trying to tackle big questions almost always end up with a ham fisted result that is more frustrating than encouraging, and this movie was no different in that. I wish Christian films would stick to real life stories, more comedic movies (Resurrection of Gavin Stone comes to mind as a positive example), and maybe some good book adaptations (I’m very excited for Best Christmas Pageant Ever next year).

  4. Heather on December 4, 2023 at 5:23 pm

    Pay it forward “scheme”….you mean kindness? Yikes! Maybe you’d like to augment ticket sales for The Shift by purchasing a ticket so you can rewatch it if you missed the very obvious thematic “mallet” (that was your word, correct?) of kindness vs. selfishness in the movie, or you could use one of the pay it forward “scheme” tickets I purchased in order to rewatch it. I purchased 2 pay it forward “scheme” tickets. Please feel free to go to the Angel Studio website and claim one of those pay it forward “scheme” tickets I purchased. Just a thought!

    • James on January 27, 2024 at 8:36 pm

      Yikes indeed when kindness seems to be a scheme. Thanks for your reply.👍

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