Faith-based movies no longer fit into a one-size-fits-all box.
This year’s “Nefarious,” a Christian horror film that didn’t skimp on chills, proved that once and for all.
“The Shift” marks another evolutionary step in the genre. It’s part spiritual journey, part dystopian sci-fi. At its best, the hybrid approach works wonders. It’s missing a sturdy sense of world-building, the kind that lets us let go of reality and get lost in an alternative realm.
“The Shift,” an imaginative spin on the Book of Job, stars Kristoffer Polaha as a sad-sack executive named Kevin. He bumps into the love of his life, Molly (Elizabeth Tabish), under clever circumstances.
They begin a life together in short order, except this isn’t a “Happily Ever After” affair. Complications ensue, testing both their faith and marital bond.
Kevin survives a brutal car accident, and when he wakes up he meets The Benefactor (Neal McDonough, terrific). The mysterious figure has the ability to “shift” reality, to tweak events in a very multiverse manner.
This isn’t the MCU, though.
“The Shift’s” version means a person’s actions can yield several realities. Some good. Some nightmarish.
The latter befalls Kevin after his run-in with The Benefactor. Can Kevin survive a dystopian version of America where masked stormtroopers keep the peace by any means necessary? Will new friends like Gabriel (Sean Astin) help him find a way back to his beloved Molly?
Writer/director Brock Heasley, expanding on his original 20-minute short film, gets plenty of mileage from a modest budget. His film employs a steampunk sensibility, and the screen is bathed in depressing shades of brown and blue.
Heasley has the right actor for the mission in Polaha, who resembles a younger Ryan Reynolds and flashes plenty of depth in a movie that demands nothing less.
The early sequences are meant to solidify the bond between Kevin and Molly, kept apart for much of the movie. It works beautifully, as does the film’s spiritual center. It’s not preachy, but it’s certainly more Christian-based than your average sci-fi yarn.
The narrative, by design, hops around early and often, and Heasley makes it easy to track most, if not all, of what’s happening at a given time. The world-building elements, though, feel incomplete for the task at hand. Perhaps a miniseries approach might have given the material enough time to breathe, to better establish the imposing stakes.
It’s also a mistake to keep The Benefactor off-screen for large passages of time. McDonough brings a coiled intensity to every role he plays, but he’s never been as foreboding as he is here.
Another nagging issue circles back to Kevin. He’s a flawed man, we’re told early in the story. Yet his quest to reunite with Molly lacks those moral miscues. He might not do the right thing in his quest, but his indefatigable spirit drains some of the story’s dramatic potential.
“The Shift” delivers an original story replete with ambitious ideas. It can’t fully commit to them, but that doesn’t rob Kevin’s quest of its urgency.
HiT or Miss: “The Shift” boasts a killer turn by Neal McDonough and a fascinating premise. What’s missing? A sturdy enough framework to hold the fascinating pieces in place.