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You’ll know a lot more about the Devil after watching the new religious-themed sci-fi drama from Angel Studios. He’s fond of steak and eggs, so no worries that he’s not getting enough protein. He clearly has insecurity issues — attempting to cajole someone into following him instead of God, he whines, “He doesn’t care about you, I do!” sounding like a spurned lover. And he’s definitely watched too many Marvel movies set in the multiverse.
The last observation stems from the fact that The Shift, written and directed by Brock Heasley, traffics in the same annoying multiverse complications that have made the Marvel films so laborious. As the storyline endlessly and confusingly shifts from one reality to another, it’s all too easy to tune out until we encounter one that’s interesting. Alas, that never happens.
The Bottom Line
The devil must have made them do it.
Release date: Friday, Dec. 1
Cast: Kristoffer Polaha, Neal McDonough, Sean Astin, Elizabeth Tabish, John Billingsley, Jason Marsen, Paras Patel, Rose Reid, John Walker Ross
Director-screenwriter: Brock Heasley
1 hour 55 minutes
In the film’s opening moments, we see a man emerge fully clothed from a lake, his voiceover narration informing us, “This is not my world” (you’ll feel the same way soon enough). He’s Kevin (Kristoffer Polaha, and if he seems familiar it means you’re watching way too many Hallmark movies), who, as the story begins, loses his financial company job and is drowning his troubles at a bar. Things pick up for him quickly, however, when he’s approached by the lovely Molly (Elizabeth Tabish, Mary Magdalene in The Chosen), who tells him that her friends dared her to talk to him. They must have hit it off, because the scene shifts a few years into the future when they’re married and have a child. And then just as suddenly they’re not, as a result of a tragedy.
Next, Kevin is involved in a car crash and wakes up to find himself being patched up by a steely-eyed, sharply dressed man who identifies himself only as the “Benefactor.” They have dinner at a café, where the patrons and staff all seem terrified. To demonstrate his powers, the Benefactor makes the waitress disappear by futzing with something on his wrist he calls a “deviator” (Apple will no doubt be introducing the feature soon) and tells Kevin that he’s “shifted” the woman to another dimension. He offers Kevin another Molly if he’ll come to work for him as a “Shifter.”
Kevin refuses the offer and seeks God’s help. “Are you praying?” the Benefactor asks, bemusedly. “Well, that’s a first.” But the prayer apparently works, since he promptly disappears.
Cut to five years later, when Kevin is living in hiding in an alternate, dystopian world resembling downtown Detroit. He illicitly writes out biblical passages for his best friend Gabriel (Sean Astin) and spends time in a former movie theater, where he takes part in “Viewing Experiences” in which he scans through multiple universes looking for Molly doppelgängers.
If you’re confused, you’ll have lots of company since The Shift doesn’t really put a priority on plot coherence. All you really need to know is that the film is a loose adaptation of The Book of Job if Stan Lee had gotten his hands on it, minus the superheroes. (Well, there’s God, although He doesn’t even have a cameo.) Fighting off the Benefactor, Kevin finds himself landing in different universes until he once again meets Molly, or a version of her who seems just as perplexed as we are.
It’s a lot to take in, and really far too much, making you wonder if the filmmaker’s 2017 short film, which inspired this feature, was easier to take. (It’s available on YouTube, but I wasn’t curious enough to find out.) Ironically, The Shift works best in its less reverent, more playful moments, such as when, in one universe or another, Gabriel denies even knowing Kevin.
“This is classic,” comments the smirking Benefactor. “C’mon, deny him again.”
And while Polaha delivers a suitably stalwart performance as the beleaguered Job-like hero, not surprisingly it’s the Devil who steals the show (he always does). McDonough, whose chiseled features and penetrating blue eyes have made him a Hollywood go-to villain, seems so perfect for the role that you wonder why it took him so long to play it. When the Benefactor seems deeply offended at being called a liar and makes some pretty reasonable points during the film’s theological debates, you start to wonder if you’ve been rooting for the wrong side.
Angel Studios, responsible for the surprise mega-hits Sound of Freedom and The Chosen, once again indulges in its truly egregious gimmick of delivering a “special message” after the credits. A sheepish-looking Polaha implores us to perform “little acts of kindness,” such as purchasing tickets for other people to see the movie in a theater via a handy QR code plastered on the screen. So the money goes not to, say, desperate refugees or to feed the hungry, but rather right into the studio’s coffers. There’s charity for you.
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