Film reviews and more since 2009

The Shift (2023) review

Dir. Brock Heasley

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

Angel Studios had their surprise hit in the dead-of-summer with Sound of Freedom, which prompted a national buzz about human trafficking and subsequently went on to gross over $200 million worldwide. Interestingly enough, the studio had a separate creative gamble already set to go this year in The Shift, their first original film crowdfunded by more than 6,000 investors known as the “Angels Guild.” Herein lies one of the strangest works to be released in theaters this year, which is saying something given this movie shares the same release-year as Camp Hideout and The Retirement Plan.

This is a faith-based, science-fiction thriller that incorporates the multiverse. Say that sentence aloud in effort to fully wrap your brain around the concept. Are multiverses part of the Christian doctrine? Can the two even coexist? By its very existence, The Shift suggests they can. But don’t get your hopes up that the two will merge together to create something coherent, both in a biblical and entertainment sense.

The Shift introduces us to Kevin (Kristoffer Polaha), a wealthy banker and noble Christian who meets and marries a woman named Molly (Elizabeth Tabish). Following a car accident on his way to work, he meets a steely-eyed man of mystery known as “the Benefactor” (Neal McDonough, Justified), who takes him to dinner at a fancy restaurant. The Benefactor tries to get Kevin to reject his Christian beliefs and become “a shifter.” The Benefactor has a device on his wrist that allows him to travel to alternate planes of reality. He can even “shift” individuals to completely different universes. Kevin not only refuses, but he drops to his knees in the restaurant and prays the Benefactor away.

The rules of “shifting” are never cogently explained, and the longer the film goes on, it’s clear it’s more of a dramatic device to drum up tension in an otherwise doldrum thriller. Despite praying the Benefactor away, Kevin still finds himself banished to an authoritarian hellscape where he must navigate life in the slums, which are controlled by an army of stormtrooper policemen in white helmets. In a movie theater where individuals can see other versions of themselves in alternate timelines, Kevin sees Molly, wearing a necklace he gave her, and believes he can get back to his cushy life.

Think of The Shift as a contemporary reworking of the Book of Job, where the Benefactor is the Devil, Job is Kevin, and Kevin’s ultimate test from God is not to turn his back on his Creator. With all the multiverse, time-travel nonsense and miserably ugly visuals, you’d be forgiven if you miss the ultimate takeaway in the film, which is that while questioning your Creator during times of duress is normal, you should never let it weaken your belief in Him.

The major problem with The Shift is it doesn’t give us any reason to like nor sympathize with Kevin. The fateful car accident that brings him into contact with the Benefactor happens within the first five minutes of the film. Hasty flashbacks contextualize Kevin’s first encounter with his future-wife, and other stray fragments detail their tumultuous home-life, which were compounded by a tragedy involving their son.

Between the lack of character development writer-director Brock Heasley affords Kevin, Molly, or anyone for that matter, and the terribly convoluted “shifting” concept, The Shift quickly becomes one of those films you stare at. You know the type. The kind of movie that you simply view without any connection to the individuals on-screen or the events happening. It laboriously slogs from one drearily dark sequence to another with Christian proselytizing added in hopes of giving the project some sort of external relevance. This is the kind of faith-based project I feel would even test the patience of its believers.

Here’s another howler too. Like Sound of Freedom, The Shift ends with its lead actor appearing on screen during the credits asking audience members to “pay it forward” by purchasing a ticket for The Shift for someone “who might not be able to do so themselves.” Angel Studios has predicated their studio on this practice — and has gamed the box office numbers quite effectively in doing so. It feels lecherous and imposing on one hand, and on another, I think it will lead to a plethora of unused tickets and wasted dollars by people who would’ve been better off being compensated for having their time wasted by The Shift in the first place.

NOTE: The Shift is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.

Starring: Kristoffer Polaha, Neal McDonough, Elizabeth Tabish, Rose Reid, John Billingsley, Paras Patel, Jordan Alexandra, and Sean Astin. Directed by: Brock Heasley.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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