If you’re looking for a faith-based film with an original twist, the new religious sci-fi thriller The Shift aims to offer moviegoers something outside the Christian genre box. Helmed by first-time director Brock Heasley, this ambitious flick comes from Angel Studios, the production company behind recent grassroots sensations like The Chosen.
Centered on a modern-day Job named Kevin, played with stalwart conviction by Hallmark channel regular Kristoffer Polaha, The Shift grapples with timeless questions of why an all-loving God allows suffering. But rather than going the stereotypical “redemption story” route, Heasley infuses the biblical tale with a high-concept sci-fi premise involving parallel universes and alternate timelines.
When Kevin loses his picture-perfect family life in a tragic car crash, he awakens to find himself face-to-face with a Lucifer-esque figure simply known as The Benefactor, menacingly portrayed by Neal McDonough. This slick-suited Devil offers Kevin a Faustian bargain – come work for me as a “Shifter” who manipulates the multiverse, and you can regain everything you lost. But our faith-clinging hero refuses.
As punishment, The Benefactor strands Kevin in a grim dystopian reality where Christianity has been outlawed. What follows is a thought-provoking cat-and-mouse game where Kevin crisscrosses trippy timelines on a quest to escape persecution, rescue his loved ones from oblivion, and cling to his beliefs amid the Devil’s continued temptations. Talk about a leap of faith!
Paradise Lost and Found: Breaking Down The Shift’s Winding Narrative
When we first meet Kevin, our down-on-his luck protagonist played by Kristoffer Polaha, he seems destined for a habitual return to the bottle after losing his finance job in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. But a happenstance bar meet-cute with a compassionate woman named Molly gives Kevin’s life new meaning. Before you can say “whirlwind romance,” the two have fast-forwarded into marital bliss, complete with a baby on the way. Yet just as quickly as screenwriter Brock Heasley establishes domestic perfection, he yanks it away when tragedy strikes the family.
Enter our slick-suited Satan surrogate, Neal McDonough’s “Benefactor,” offering Kevin a curious Faustian bargain after he improbably survives a disfiguring car wreck. The Benefactor explains he has the power to “shift” between parallel universes and timelines, transporting people across the metaversal expanse at will. He wants Kevin serving as his dimension-hopping henchman, but or hero resists temptation with a desperate prayer. His defiance comes at a price though, as Kevin is exiled by the nose-thumbed Benefactor into a grim alternate world without religious freedom.
In this dystopian reality evoking The Handmaid’s Tale, Christianity has been outlawed, and believers forced underground. Anyone caught preaching Scripture or even praying gets severe punishment. Now living under an alias, Kevin joins a small resistance movement while continuing his interdimensional quest to both escape persecution and reunite with his wife and child.
The Benefactor, however, delights in disrupting any flicker of hope Kevin discovers across the metaversal planes. Satan’s stand-in continues angling to have Kevin join the dark side as they play an endless game of cat-and-mouse across the timelines. Even when our hero experiences moving reconnections with Molly’s multidimensional “variants,” McDonough’s devilish troublemaker invariably shatters the moment.
As Kevin keeps clinging to his faith amid unimaginable obstacles across space and time, profound questions emerge about free will versus predetermination. Does every choice spawn an alternate reality? If so, do we truly have agency over our fates? Or this entire ordeal just a test of Kevin’s conviction from God? Perhaps there’s no real answer, mirroring our own inability to fully know the mind of the divine.
These heady debates culminate when Kevin finally stands up to the Benefactor in a climactic confrontation. Our Job-like hero argues that siding with what he knows to be morally wrong would be giving up his last inch of free choice. Kevin places his life in God’s hands instead, praying for deliverance. A rousing callback to the film’s opening symbolically implies his faith may have opened the path to redemption. But interpretation is left open to whether Kevin escapes to another plane or simply finds grace by surrendering ego to a higher power.
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Probing the Meaning Behind The Shift’s Trippy Premise
In recasting the biblical Book of Job as a sci-fi thriller, translates God “testing” Job’s faith into a multiverse fable allowing Satan himself to directly torment our protagonist. By leveraging parallel worlds, Kevin effectively suffers Job-like calamities in rapid succession. After finally finding domestic bliss, he loses his wife and child, lifestyle, community status, and even his identity when exiled by the Benefactor. This framework intensifies Job’s trials by detaching Kevin from any familiar reality where he experienced God’s grace. His unflagging belief is thus tested on raw existential terms.
While avoiding overt sermonizing, The Shift also explores endemic questions about why an all-powerful divine force allows bad things to happen to good people. Kevin’s journey evokes us to examine our own susceptibility to doubt God in times of suffering, even as we may claw towards retaining faith. The film’s equivocal ending asks whether deliverance arrives from above, or if finding heaven simply means surrendering ego to accept life on reality’s terms.
Where The Shift falters is coherence in building its challenging nested universe rules. While ambitious for a first-time director, Heasley struggles to help audiences mentally map the shifting dynamics the way last year’s indie hit Everything Everywhere All at Once did with more clarity. Moments showing how characters glimpse alternate realities via the Vica Vision theater briefly make the multidimensional framework digestible. But elsewhere the storytelling surrounding The Benefactor’s powers remains stubbornly murky on specifics.
We’re left scratching our heads whether Kevin swaps worlds involuntarily or the Benefactor drags him to customized realms designed to manipulate. And if every choice spawns a new reality, do we have self-determination? While thought-provoking, the inconsistent application of the film’s dimensional mechanics often feel randomly glued onto the Job allegory instead of clarifying it.
The dystopian police state where Christianity is outright banned delivers wish fulfillment for evangelical viewers who may feel increasingly ostracized for traditional beliefs. The Shift lets them valorize Kevin as a heroic outlier practicing unlawful faith like early believers under Roman persecution. They can envision themselves as equally defiant if their religion faced similar criminalization.
This questionable persecution fantasy also aligns with reactionary efforts to frame inclusive reforms in public life as infringing on religious liberty. By extrapolating secular governmental policies to an extreme end state where Scripture gets you jailed, the film plays to conspiratorial fears regarding the future of faith in society. While likely resonating for many evangelicals, this suggestive angle ironically flouts Jesus’s teaching to love thy neighbor.
Beyond being an on-the-nose labels, referring to Neal McDonough’s antagonist exclusively as The Benefactor crystallizes his embodiment of temptation, chaos magic, and sinister enablement all in one. His penchant for disruption as an end unto itself casts the name as severely ironic, like calling the devil a “philanthropist.” This matchup frames the battle between faith and nihilism at the story’s core.
McDonough’s grinning, icy-eyed performance accentuates the Lucifer parallels, bringing charismatic menace to the ubiquitous Hollywood Satan mold. Where other films focus on the Prince of Darkness seeking corruptible souls through deception, the Benefactor’s bargains are transparently crooked. He excuses his malice as giving lost sheep what they think will make them happy. This paints sin as a sucker’s game people freely choose against better wisdom. Hence the need for spiritual armor against those barbs of earthly temptation seeking entry points into the soul.
Appraising The Shift’s Lead and Supporting Turns
Considering The Shift’s fragmented narrative perpetually pulls the rug from under leading man Kristoffer Polaha, he anchors the topsy-turvy plot with admirable sincerity. His empathetic everyman persona connects Kevin’s tribulations to relatable human foibles, keeping us invested even when the dimension-shifting mechanics turn convoluted. Chemistry with his various leading ladies wanes in spots, but Polaha projects enough heart to prevent Kevin from feeling like a flimsy cipher. He makes an inspiring performer to convey the film’s themes on personal resilience and faith under fire.
Casting Neal McDonough as The Benefactor proves one of writer-director Brock Heasley’s wisest creative decisions. The character actor exudes smarmy menace from his first frame, dialing up oily charisma as Satan’s stand-in. His snake oil salesman spin on evil, offering temptation as a warped path to self-actualization, makes the Biblical struggles feel modern. And McDonough seems to relish each moment the Benefactor plays puppet master across the metaverse. He toys with Kevin like a cat batting around a scared mouse for sport, providing critical stakes in slower sections. Whenever McDonough steps into frame, The Shift perks up.
For a freshman feature effort, Heasley exhibits ambition tackling this philosophically minded source material fused with an intricate sci-fi concept. Yet the complex multiverse mythology seems closely tailored to his 2017 Biblical short. This proof of concept didn’t require sustained coherence over a 100-minute runtime. The extended adaptation exposes pacing problems and choppy scene transitions that stall momentum. It takes a skilled hand to spin genre ingredients into allegory, and Heasley hasn’t fully developed that finesse yet compared to predecessors like Darren Aronofsky (mother!). But moments like the moody climax hint his visual storytelling flare could shine brighter given refinement.
Parting Thoughts: A Leap of Faith Film For The Converted
While falling short of fully realizing its ambitions, The Shift deserves some grace marks for daring to inject the faith-based genre with unconventional sci-fi ideas. uneven as the multiverse theology might be rendered, writer-director Brock Heasley fuses these paranormal elements onto biblical themes in intriguing ways. For evangelical audiences, the film’s uncynical earnestness reflecting how persecution tests conviction should resonate strongly, especially Neal McDonough’s lively satanic presence.
Greater coherence approximating the clear world-building of Everything Everywhere All at Once may have better served the metaphysical heaviness. As is, moments of awkwardness like the meet-cute with Kristoffer Polaha’s future wife reflect the uneven execution of a first-timer learning curve. But there’s enough connective tissue present where patient viewers can stitch together meaning from the purposeful randomness.
While likely too idiosyncratic to draw secular crowds, The Shift delivers enough fresh religious subtext — and subversive persecution fantasy — to court the underserved faith-based demo. Fans of The Chosen seeking another genre mash-up that speaks to spiritual struggle may find provocative exploration through the film’s scattered timelines. It simply requires an openness to abandoning earthly logic for the possibility of grace enduring beyond this realm.
In the end, The Shift functions best as a conceptual conversation piece for believers rather than a cleanly crafted sci-fi thriller. But Heasley’s swing-for-the-fences ambition bodes well for potential future efforts fine-tuning his mixing of message with entertainment. For now, his debut feature provides enough tasty food for theological thought to recommend for audiences already converted to exploring faith through fiction. The less devout may find trouble connecting sinew between the verse.
The Shift's sprawling multiverse theology proves overly ambitious for a freshman filmmaker, but glimmers of visual inspiration suggest Brock Heasley may yet find his footing marrying entertainment with evangelism. Despite uneven execution, the film's earnest exploration of why God allows suffering should sufficiently resonate with sympathetic faithful audiences. For those viewers, Neal McDonough's lively satanic presence adds further upside. Just don't expect the narrative dimensions to fully cohere logically.
- Ambitious and original premise combining sci-fi and religion
- Thought-provoking themes about faith and suffering
- Strong performance by Neal McDonough as a charismatic Satan figure
- Interesting visual depiction of alternate worlds and dystopian setting
- Should deeply resonate with target Christian audience
- Narrative coherence falters amid convoluted plot
- Rules of multiverse remain frustratingly unclear
- Protagonist and lead performances fail to truly engage viewer
- Pacing drags significantly in parts
- Persecution portrayal could alienate secular audiences
- Lacks mainstream crossover appeal