Tragedy strikes Mack when he takes the kids on a camping trip in Oregon. The two oldest children, Kate (Megan Charpentier) and Josh (Gage Munroe), capsize their canoe, and Mack swims out to save them. While he does, the youngest, Missy (Amélie Eve), disappears. Police investigate, finding only Missy's bloody sundress in a shack the feds say was used by a serial killer.
The next winter, Mack finds a typed note in his mailbox, inviting him to revisit the shack. The note is signed "Papa" — Nan's nickname for God. Thinking the note might be a clue from Missy's killer, he goes to the shack, where the story takes a turn toward the allegorical.
A trail from the shack leads to a sun-dappled cabin in a lush woods, where Papa (played by Octavia Spencer) is waiting. (God, by the way, seems to get his/her home furnishings from the Sundance catalog.) Accompanying Papa in the cabin are Jesus (played by Israeli actor Avraham Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (played by Japanese actress/singer Sumire), a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
The rest of the movie consists of ponderous conversations Mack has with the members of this trinity about God's love, Mack's need to let go of his pain, and the importance of forgiving and being forgiven. Oh, and at one point Mack and Jesus have a foot race across the surface of a lake.
English director Stuart Hazeldine and a trio of screenwriters have little success injecting any dramatic tension in Young's tedious and preordained plot. The only interesting parts of "The Shack" are the understated performances by Spencer and, briefly, the Canadian actor Graham Greene as God. The only surprise is the appropriate casting of an Israeli, Alush, as Jesus — who, as we're taught in the Bible, was born in that part of the world.
"The Shack" is a simplistic, schlocky Sunday school lesson that will likely be appreciated only by those who already believe it. The choir will enjoy the preaching, even if it falls on deaf ears with everyone else.