After the success of Sound of Freedom and the ongoing popularity of The Chosen, there's little denying that the world is well aware of the folks at indie distributor Angel Studios. For the most part a faith-based outfit with a willingness to tell stories with some degree of crossover appeal, Angel Studios is back with the unique, ambitious The Shift. The film stars Kristoffer Polaha as Kevin Garner, a man whom we meet just as he's lost his great gig at a hedge fund and is on the verge of setting aside his sobriety when he meets the mysterious Molly (Elizabeth Tabish).
When you think of faith-based films, you don't think of films like writer/director Brock Heasley's The Shift. Sci-fi has seldom, if ever, been done convincingly within the faith-based world and on those rare occasions when filmmakers have tried we've either been left with laughable results or faith has been minimized.
While The Shift sure isn't a masterpiece, it's a confident and more than competent piece of filmmaking that successfully weaves together a core of faith meet science meets family drama. Inspired by the story of Job, yes really, The Shift vividly brings its theological center to life while telling a story that essentially exists within theological multiverses.
Color me surprised. It works.
Our story really takes off when Kevin meets a mysterious and menacing figure known as "The Benefactor," an evil personified kind of figure played with appropriate relentless tension by the mesmerizing Neal McDonough. The encounter leaves Kevin banished to a dystopian world where everyone is poor and desperation and danger exist at every corner. While fighting for survival, Kevin is also fighting for a way to get back to his wife.
There are a zillion ways that The Shift could have gone wrong. It never does. It starts with Kristoffer Polaha's emotionally honest and natural performance as Kevin. It's a far more intense performance than we're used to seeing in faith-centered cinema, a fact represented by the film's PG-13 rating. While The Shift is far from graphic, there's no denying that Heasley grounds the film in a stark reality that is uncomfortable and jarring.
Polaha is matched by McDonough's sizzling intensity, an epic sort of evil that could have easily become caricaturish but never does. He's the kind of guy you don't want to run into on the street, though the odds are pretty good you will.
Among the supporting players, Sean Astin is particularly impressive as Gabriel and it's an awful lot of fun watching Astin step outside his usual zone. John Billingsley, as Russo, is also super impressive.
Music by Dan Haseltine and Matthew S. Nelson is effective throughout and Edd Lukas's lensing for the film creates an atmosphere always sort of tipping back and forth between moments of light and moments of dark.
The Shift is adapted from Heasley's own short film and serves as his feature film debut. Indeed, it's a mighty fine debut. There's no doubt you'll be seeing more from him in the future.
There's no doubt that The Shift has some crossover appeal, though it's theological core is evident throughout in ways both subtle and quite obvious. Continuing to utilize their popular "pay it forward" model for tickets that helped to turn Sound of Freedom into one of 2023's most surprising successes, Angel Studios has very likely snagged itself another winner with this rare tapestry of faith meets science meets redemption story.
The Shift opens in theaters on December 1st.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic