The Shift (Christian Movie Review)
About The Movie
Faith-based storytelling has long been synonymous with subpar quality, sermonizing, and an abundance of “cheese.” But in recent years, that unfavorable narrative has begun to change. Angel Studios (the company behind the megahit series The Chosen) has been a driving force in that process. The studio’s new film, a science-fiction retelling of the book of Job, aims to transport audiences in an even more exciting and daring direction.
The Shift is both a testament to how far faith-based films have come and a reminder that there’s still some distance to go. The film has all the excitement, production value, and craftsmanship of a mainstream Hollywood film. Yet, like many other faith-based films, it still feels like a flashy Sunday School lesson at times. A lot of Christians will enjoy it. While secular audiences may find the sermonizing too heavy-handed, it offers enough compelling elements to at least earn the chance of a viewing.
A test I often apply to faith-based films to discern whether I’m affirming the “good” or merely the “agreeable” is asking, “If its message didn’t affirm my own religious faith, would I still enjoy it?” Many lackluster faith-based films get a free pass simply because they are preaching to the choir. The Shift is not one of those films. In fact, my criticisms of the movie are primarily directed toward the “faith-based” components, not the technical craftsmanship. The Shift is a well-made and consistently engaging film, regardless of the viewer’s religious bent.
The moody, atmospheric tone is reminiscent of films like Blade Runner, complete with a melancholic voiceover. The design elements evoke dystopian movies like the Hunger Games. The story is deep and immersive. The acting is solid across the board, featuring Neal McDonough (who seems to have been born to play creepy cinematic villains) and several familiar faces from The Chosen. Also, including Sean Astin in a film is never a bad idea.
The relatively limited budget is apparent at times but works to the film’s advantage. While many recent big-budget films have felt like expensive but empty spectacles, a smaller budget forces The Shift to confine the scope to the protagonist’s personal journey. Everything that is shown on screen looks believable, and while some glimpses into the larger scope may have been enjoyable, the overall film is better for its narrower focus.
There’s a lot to appreciate about this film, but if there’s one element that holds it back, it’s the filmmaker’s lack of trust that the audience will “get” the message without explicitly stating it. What makes the sci-fi genre compelling is that it challenges viewers and refuses to “dumb down” the concepts. The moment a sci-fi story starts explaining itself, it stops being interesting. The Shift wants to step boldly into the genre as a gripping sci-fi narrative (and succeeds in many respects), but it still has its other foot firmly planted behind a church pulpit.
For example, one doesn’t need to be a Bible scholar to perceive that The Shift is a retelling of the biblical book of Job. That’s because the film puts title cards with quotes from Job on screen, and when Kevin (the protagonist) is asked to recount a Bible story from memory, you can probably guess which story he tells (hint: it’s Job). Likewise, when Kevin or Gabriel (Sean Astin) struggles with doubt, grief, or a crisis of belief, the filmmakers often fall back on having a character verbally articulate the issue rather than communicating this tension visually. The viewer is told about the characters’ internal tension more often than they are shown it.
There’s a sense that the filmmakers consider the film’s message so important that they really wanted to avoid any ambiguity. By using such an explicit approach, the message is stripped of some potency. The viewers sit back and passively listen rather than actively wrestling with the concepts in a more personal way.
Despite its heavy-handed tendencies, The Shift is a step forward for faith-based films. Christians won’t need to sheepishly call it “inspiring” or “wholesome” while turning a blind eye to the poor craftsmanship or unimaginative story. We can praise The Shift for the good it offers, not just the “bad stuff” it doesn’t. Like the characters in the story, it gives a glimpse of an alternate reality in which faith-based films are every bit as inventive, well-constructed, and intellectually captivating as mainstream Hollywood movies. I’m not sure this film gets us there yet, but it gives me hope that we’re heading in the right direction.
Engage The Film
The Destructive Power of Sin
The Shift is about the far-reaching consequences of free will. The story demonstrates how seemingly insignificant choices can have a dramatic impact on the world around us. At one point, the devil character tells Kevin, “Do you know what evil really is? When you break it down, it’s not scary. It’s not blood rites and horns. It’s none of that nonsense. It’s just selfishness. Self above anyone else.” The film’s tension is not truly about Kevin defeating the devil but about overcoming his own selfish nature. As the devil declares, “You know it’s not me you’re fighting. It’s yourself.”
In the film, the alternate dimensions are the product of human choice. The other versions of Kevin are reflections of the same sinful human nature. The devil is a liar who plays on hopes and unmet dreams. He doesn’t need to kill a person; he can simply “shift” the direction of their life through small choices that take them down a destructive path. Likewise, selfless choices are shown to have an equally far-reaching impact.
The story of Job is a unique narrative. Some scholars debate whether it is historical or if it is an imaginative allegory written to illustrate spiritual truth. Either way, there is some danger in approaching the story as a template for how God operates. While all Christians face trials (James 1:2-4), Job’s testing is a special case in Scripture. Nevertheless, The Shift explores the theme of God’s silence during difficult circumstances.
Despite being recognized as a hero, Kevin feels at times as though God has abandoned him. His friend questions, “You think you’d be getting a bit more support …. What do you think you’re doing wrong?” Kevin knows in his head that he needs patience to endure the testing circumstances, but in his heart, he struggles to endure and keep faith. The end of the film provides some closure, but the struggle itself is one to which many Christians can relate, and the film offers a comforting reminder that even when God seems silent, he promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).