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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Danielle Panabaker, Sherry Stringfield, Bill Oberst Jr.
DIRECTED BY
Michael Landon Jr.
SCREENPLAY
Beverly Lewis (novel), Chris Easterly
MPAA RATING
NR
RUNNING TIME
Est. 90 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Hallmark Channel (Television), Sony/Affirm/Provident (DVD)
DVD EXTRAS
Deleted Scenes
 "The Shunning" Review 
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Based upon a novel by prolific Christian author Beverly Lewis, The Shunning was originally a Hallmark Channel film before being picked up by the Sony faith-based distrib Provident Films for a home video release.

Unlike many of the recent faith-based theatrical releases like The Grace Card or the soon to be released Courageous, The Shunning very much feels like a made-for-television movie. Katie Lapp (Danielle Panabaker) is a young Amish woman on the brink of marriage to a respected community leader who is struggling the the rules that bind her close-knit community. When a mysterious, successful woman (Sherry Stringfield) arrives unexpectedly from New York into her community, Katie begins a quest to discover the secret of her past and, perhaps, her own identity.

Beverly Lewis grew up the daughter of an Assemblies of God pastor near Lancaster, PA. At a mere eight years old, Lewis learned that her maternal grandmother had been "shunned" from her Old Order Mennonite community, an experience unquestionably woven into the fabric of The Shunning. Lewis has authored over 70 books, many of which focus on the Amish communities in Pennsylvania.

As a Church of the Brethren minister myself, The Shunning explores a branch from my own theological tree as Church of the Brethren are very much cousins to those churches from the Anabaptist/historic peace church heritage. As someone who has studied the church's heritage, however, The Shunning became somewhat disappointing both for its cultural inaccuracies and for its unintentional yet rather harsh portrayal of the Amish community.

The Shunning is directed by Michael Landon Jr., who also directed Saving Sarah Cain, the first movie based upon a Beverly Lewis novel. It should be noted that while The Shunning is without a doubt based upon Lewis's work, it is not particularly faithful to it. While this isn't particularly rare among book-to-screen adaptations, the changes in tone and plot, while subtle, are rather jarring at times.

The reasons for Katie's shunning seem jarring and incomprehensible to most contemporary Christians, but are quite real for those who follow a more Old Order tradition. However, Natasha Landau's costuming and Jennifer Wynn O'Kelly's production design fail to accurately capture an authentic portrayal of Amish culture. While this won't be particularly disturbing for those merely seeking a decent family friendly film to watch, those who are away (and most likely the film's target audience) will likely be disappointed.

On the positive side, Danielle Panabaker gives a sensitive, complex performance as Katie Lapp, a young woman torn by all that she is learning about herself. Former Golden Globe nominee Sherry Stringfield does a terrific job as the mysterious woman who shows up and disrupts Katie's life, while Bill Oberst Jr. is solid as Samuel Lapp.

While it's likely that fans of the writings of Beverly Lewis will prefer the book, it's interesting to experience Landon's interpretation of the novel and to watch Panabaker bring the central character to life. While not quite as successful as Saving Sarah Cain at capturing the essence of Lewis's writing, The Shunning does offer enough of a glimpse into the culture of the Lancaster County Amish that fans of traditional Christian cinema will find much to appreciate in this thought-provoking film.

For more information on the DVD release of The Shunning, coming out September 13th, visit the Provident Films website for the film.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  
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