Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Shift, from Angel Studios

Maybe we aren’t trapped in a digital matrix. Maybe the Devil “shifts” people between alternate parallel realities instead. The Mephistophelean character never exactly calls himself that, but the so-called “Benefactor” definitely sees himself as a rival to the Man Upstairs. It turns out faith-based science fiction finds a way to give dystopian and multiversal themes a new twist in director-screenwriter Brock Heasley’s The Shift, produced by Angel Studios (the Sound of Freedom distributor), which opens Friday in theaters.

Kevin Garner was finance shark who found redemption when his future wife, Molly, approached him on a dare. Thanks to her influence, he went back to church and started acting like a good husband and father. However, the death of their young son sent him spiraling down again. That is when Satan/The Benefactor approaches Garner.

It turns out, Garner has been his go-to guy in every other dimension, becoming his Faustian enforcer, to enjoy all the hedonistic perks that position entails. He can’t “shift” anyone though. Only the Benefactor’s secret “shifter” operatives, with their special shifting bracelets, can slip innocent victims into an alternation reality.


Much to the Benefactor’s surprise, this Garner turns him down, because he still has faith.  As punishment, the Satanic overlord shifts Garner to his grimmest, most dystopian reality, where his evil powers are openly recognized and feared. Forced to live underground, Garner clings to the hope that he can reunite with Molly in another reality.

The conclusion is a little clunky, but the guts of
The Shift have some surprisingly fresh multiversal science fiction elements, especially the way the dystopian characters relate to their alternate selves. Heasley’s Job-riffing script definitely reflects an Evangelical Christian perspective, but it goes for long extended periods without appealing to faith. Of course, the Devil is evil and nasty all the way through, but the same could be said for plenty of secular horror movies.

Neal McDonough a major reason why
The Shift works to the extent that it does. He is smoothly sinister as the Benefactor, making him ruthless, but charismatic, in a way that befits his infernal role. John Billingsley and Sean Astin also provide some colorful, complex supporting turns as Russo and Gabriel, two of Garner’s dodgy associates operating on the margins of the dystopian reality. Kristoffer Polaha is sufficiently solid as Garner, but his earnestness just is not as interesting as the characters surrounding him.

The Shift
is probably the best non-Catholic faith-based film ever reviewed at J.B. Spins. It also represents a welcome return to Christian-themed science fiction, which used to be relatively mainstream, as seen in Tales of Tomorrow’s “Bitter Storm” episode and The Twilight Zone’s “The Obsolete Man,” (written by Rod Serling, himself). Although not seamless, The Shift is considerably more polished than “mainstream” sci-fi releases like I am Mortal or Sensation. Recommended for fans of Christian cinema and multiverse sf, it opens this Friday (12/1) at theaters nationwide, including the Regal E-Walk in New York.