The Shift is a Christian film by Angel Studios, the same company that produced The Chosen series and Sound of Freedom. I first became aware of the film when I saw its trailer in the previews preceding Sound of Freedom in the theater. While I was highly intrigued with the storyline, some of the dialogue shown was a little too reminiscent of the stereotypical faith-based films where a sermon is inserted into a weak story and they just end up being so bad. However, The Shift offers something different in that while it still somewhat follows the standard Christian movie format, it does so in the form of a science-fiction dystopian story that dabbles in the concept of the multiverse. Moreover, after listening to an interview with two representatives from Angel Studios and learning about their unique peer-review process used to green light their films, as well as that the film being a modern day re-telling of The Book of Job, I felt more inclined to see it.
After doing so, it is clear that the trailer does not do the film justice, as it was well worth seeing. The film was released on December 1st of 2023, and despite its limited showings, assuming a theater decided to screen it at all, the film did very well and is now available for streaming online.
A Much Darker Christian Film
The film opens with a hedge fund manager named “Kevin” (played by Kristoffer Polaha) who is about to renounce his sobriety after being fired from Bear-Sterns at the time of the mortgage meltdown of 2008. Before he does he is approached by “Molly” (Elizabeth Tabish) on a dare and the two strike up a conversation and agree to a date. We then see a whirlwind romance, marriage and the birth of a child as they happily begin a new life together. Somehow this all goes wrong and tragedy befalls them (even losing their child), and during an argument with Molly on the phone, Kevin is in a car accident.
When he awakens he is greeted by a man known simply as “the Benefactor” who takes Kevin to a cafe and makes him an offer. The Benefactor (brilliantly played by Neal McDonough) is a kind of lordly figure who rules various principalities in multiple universes, including the one where they exist. The Benefactor chose Kevin and wants to offer him a chance to rule one of these universes where he will have wealth and power, if only he will bow down and serve the Benefactor. Kevin refuses and the Benefactor disappears, and for the next five years in the movie Kevin is stuck in the totalitarian world of the Benefactor.
His only solace is found in sending out Biblical passages from memory in secret to the people of that world through a friend named “Gabriel” (played by Sean Astin), and visiting a very special kind of theater. Instead of showing movies this theater is able to offer its viewers a glimpse into the other universes, and during one session Kevin is able to see different dimensional “versions” of Molly. It is then that he discovers a clue as to which “version” of Molly he wants to get back to and how he can do it. The rest of the movie deals with him pursuing that plan and racing to keep one step ahead of the Benefactor and his henchmen as he shifts from one dimension to the next to get back to the universe where Molly exists.
The acting in The Shift is first rate, especially with McDonough as the Benefactor. His evil nature is portrayed through smiles and jests, but you can nevertheless still sense the menace and diabolical sneering in his voice and facial expressions. Moreover, while the storyline is still Hallmark Channel material, the film’s dystopian setting increases the stakes in which the characters find themselves, that give the film a much darker tone. When it comes to The Shift it is not so much that a science-fiction film has been baptized, but that a Christian film that has moved out of the genre’s comfort zone to tell a story which goes beyond the typical personal struggles with faith that is seen in most other Christian films
However, what really sets The Shift apart from other Christian films is the addition of the multiverse element into the storyline. In a way the storyline is reminiscent of the series finale episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, “All Good Things...” in that it revolves around a central story that can only be resolved by managing the affairs in alternate worlds, all the while everyone in those worlds know nothing of what is going on. Aside from being a surprising novelty for the genre, it increases the sophistication of the storyline in that the audience is required to pay attention to the other universes and the various versions of Molly. The Benefactor, who is revealed to be Satan, lies to Kevin and toys with Kevin’s emotions in order to get him to question and abandon his faith. Consequently, the viewer has to sift through his words in light of what Kevin experiences in the film and how he perceives it.
The existence of multiple universes and timelines also allows the film to delve into the notion of hypotheticals and possibilities against the stark moral realities in the here and now in a far more serious way. We see this twice in the movie, one openly and another time more subtlety. The first is when Kevin is given a chance by the Benefactor to either help a stranger out or go back to Molly, but not both, and he choses to help a the stranger. The other instance is easy to miss and occurs during a scene near the end when Kevin in “shifting” through various universes to get back home and the song “Oh My God” by the band Jars of Clay can be heard playing in the background. You wouldn’t know this unless you are familiar with the song, but the entire song is all about people with serious doubts crying out to God for help and not always getting the answers we want. An excellent choice for a soundtrack if ever there was one.
The Book of Job in the Multiverse
This leads into how The Shift measures up as a modern retelling of The Book of Job. Whether one takes the story of Job as a literal story or an allegory of faith (or both), the notion that God would allow our faith in Him to be severely tested is something about the story of Job we can all appreciate. But to take away everything, even our own children, away from us and then tell us in the end that we aren’t God, so we just don’t get it, and who are we to even question God? Well that is the part of the book that people in all times (but especially in our jaded and skeptical age) have found rather unsatisfactory to say the least. Even if you take the interpretation by some that Job didn’t get ten new children, but his old ones were resurrected as well his fortunes restored, it is still a hard cup to drink from.
Yet, the coming of our Lord is the answer to the Book of Job, it is the one thing that Job was not able to know at that time. That a loving Father would send his only begotten son, and one who would take on the sufferings of this world and die for us so that we might be saved from our sins and death. Obviously Kevin is Job in The Shift but he is also a type of the same kind of suffering servant like our Lord; That he accepts the cup of suffering and his exile without compromising his faith or integrity despite being offered the allure of power and wealth. Here again, the multiverse element comes into play with the film’s ending as it pertains to the Book of Job. Without spoiling the ending, suffice it to say that it is almost as though the film’s writer and director, Brock Heasley, asked Christopher Nolan to write the ending to a romantic Hallmark movie along the lines of Inception or Tenet. The result is an outcome for Kevin that flips the storyline on its head in a way the makes the ending of the Book of Job seem entirely reasonable as he finds his way back “home” and once again enjoys the love he once had, plus so much more.
From that perspective, The Shift, is ultimately a very watchable love story about a man’s love for God and his family, and the lengths he will go to achieve and keep it, no matter the troubles that come his way. In fact, St. Paul’s words after his great discourse on love in 1 Corinthians beautifully sum up this film, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” In this case the dim “mirror” represents all of Kevin's worldly troubles in his own world and the other universes (not to mention the theater screen where he saw the alternate versions of Molly). His faith in God and his hope in getting home, plus his love of God, Molly, his child, and his “neighbors” in the dystopian world he was trapped, all help to carry him forward till he comes “face to face” with a new and glorified world that he can call home.
As a final note, the film is well worth seeing not only because it is a great story but because it is important to support independent Christian films likeThe Shift. Partly because these films help push back against the filth coming out of Hollywood, but also since it ensures that more and better Christian films can be made. After all, one of the main reasons why a lot of Christian films have the reputation of being clichéd and bland is that they are made to appeal to the largest audience possible.
Making a movie that is too Catholic or too Baptist or even too secular, would limit the audience size to the point that it would not be economically viable to make such films in the first place. However, by supporting Christian films that stretch the limits of the genre and by using Angel Studio’s “paying it forward” option that allows you to purchase tickets for other people, you will be encouraging some budding filmmaker to take a chance and create novel and better films. The Shift may not be the perfect movie for you right now, but by supporting it you are ensuring that your ideal film will one day be made.
Photo Credit- Scioto Post