The Shift: Movie Review

It's been a while since I've done a movie review, so when I was offered the chance to watch Angel Studios' first-ever original production, The Shift, I wasn't sure I would have the time. Intrigued by how well other independent movies were doing at the box office, I didn't want to miss out on what could be another surprise hit. 

The Shift Movie Review

I knew the premise (somewhat), that it had a faith aspect, and that it featured one of my favorite all-time actors Neal McDonough. I had no other information about the film; this is my honest review.

The Shift movie review

A brief synopsis of The Shift (no spoilers)

The Shift features our central character Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha), as he loses his job at Bear Stearns and finds himself at the bar, considering whether you fall off the wagon after some time in sobriety. He is joined by future spouse Molly (Elizabeth Tabish), and they flirt about as they recount what life would be like together. A sweet montage of their future plays out, and you get the idea that they are a happy family with one child in the years to come.

That's when everything goes sideways - literally. After a bad day at work, followed by an argument with his wife and a car wreck, Kevin finds himself hurt and confused in an alley. The man assisting him is known only as The Benefactor, played by the charming yet freakishly terrifying McDonough. The setting, now different from before the car wreck, features cowering people, empty streets, and a choice to make: Will Kevin agree to work for the Benefactor and resume the life he knew and loved?

Kevin's choice lands him in what can only be described as an apocalyptic nightmare, filled with poverty, gun-wielding overlords, and a growing longing for his wife and child. He works on a plan to reunite with them and passes the time writing his vague recollection of Scriptures to share via an underground messenger (Sean Astin.)

The Shift movie review

As the movie unfolds, he is met with violence, betrayal, and glimpses of what life could be had he made another choice. He is also continually tormented by The Benefactor, even as he calls out to a God who isn't exactly choosing to make Himself visible in this dark world. 

It's only when he's given one final choice to make that things can turnaround for Kevin, but if he ever gets that choice is left up to viewers to discover in this imaginative film.

What I loved about The Shift movie (2023)

There are many things to praise in this film. While the budget was significantly smaller than blockbuster films by major studios, Angel Studios played it safe in keeping the "world" small, even though it spans across literal dimensions. Coffee shops, bars, small apartments, and a few single street scenes are realistic, even as we are asked to believe in high-tech futurism, doppelgangers, and alternative universes. 

The cast is talented. You already know my feelings on the McDonough. However, other characters followed the assignment well. Astin provides a much-needed twist, and Kevin's wife shows the complexity of a woman in pain, even as she holds out hope for better things. Even the guy at the futuristic movie theater caught my heartstrings as he puts cat food out for his missing feline every day for 4 years. It had a humanity. 

The Shift movie review

The message didn't fall flat. This is an important point to make in a "faith-based" film, because so many movies from similar studios push the message so hard, and it comes out louder than the artistry.

Yes, this is a retelling of Job. 

Yes, you hear about it more than a few times in the film. 

Yes, it features underground Bible smugglers, "This Little Light of Mine," and many, many references to God.

But it also features choices made to ungodly paths, paths with strip clubs, alcoholism, and murder. While subtle and in no way gratuitous, this isn't all sunshine and roses; consequences are shown for what they are. I appreciated that.

Things I didn't love about The Shift movie (2023)

Maybe it was the screening platform that paused three times while viewing (or the fact my kids needed me to get up and help them once or twice), but the movie felt long. There were three points in the movie that I would have thought were the climax (had I not known how much was left), and then it went in another direction. It was true three-act form, but by the third act, I was hoping for the final showdown. You knew it was coming. 

Can't we just beat the devil already?

While the movie was a religious allegory, it wasn't preachy. It didn't moralize. In fact, God and His people weren't notably present in the movie, at all. And that was kind of the point. 

If Kevin is left to be tested again and again, without God assisting, what would that look like? How preachy can a movie where God isn't moving stuff around and lifting people up into heaven actually be?

Yet, there were a couple of moments where I thought, "Yes, we know this is a story about Job. We get it. Yes, it's  Job story." As a Christian, I knew the Job story and I felt like most people who weren't Christians were familiar enough with it that they could have mentioned it once, and we could have followed along. 

The Shift movie parents guide

Is The Shift movie for you?

First, I understand the temptation to rate a "faith-based" film differently from other films. I'm attempting not to do that here. While The Shift has significant Biblical themes, including an overarching Job story, it plays out very nicely as a philosophical movie, too.

What would you do if given the choice Kevin had? Are we the product of our worst choices? What about our best choices? Is it ever too late to do the right thing?

Perhaps the most poignant point in the movie is a scene where The Benefactor is challenging Kevin, and he states what evil is. Evil, he says, is not devil horns and the like, but it's selfishness. Choosing one's self over and over leads us to make the choices that create a horrific world.

That scene stayed with me long after the movie was over. Because while there are some really great "religious films" this didn't feel like one. It was more like a philosophical thought exercise set in a futuristic world, filled with talented actors and a message of hope.

I think the world could benefit from a movie like this. I was entertained but uplifted, and I typically do not like the bulk of cheesy, "faith-based" films.

This movie is for anyone who:

  • Likes McDonough, Sean Astin, or the other actors in the film
  • Is open to thinking more deeply about the world and how we can truly affect positive change
  • Wants to support independent film
  • Enjoys thrillers, futuristic stories, or tales of good and evil

Is The Shift for children: parents guide?

This movie is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements, and I think 13 years of age is an appropriate age for filmgoers. Some younger children may be able to handle the mature content, which includes the following (not exhaustive) list of topics:

Drinking, especially beer and wine, are shown repeatedly; alcoholism is alluded to, and it's used to tempt the main character

While there is no sexual activity aside from kissing, a few brief flashbacks take place in a strip club or party-like scene with multiple women and one man; it's implied that the main character (wearing only a robe) is with two women while they sit on a couch; another timeline has him being suggestively aggressive with a scared women (no violence is shown here)

Violence is a prevalent theme in this movie, and the majority of the film takes place in a universe where martial law keeps the citizens in check. Tear gas, laser guns, and real guns are used repeatedly on innocent people. The main character has cuts and butterfly bandages throughout the film, gets shot, and handles multiple attacks. Characters are implied to be killed offscreen. However, all of the violence is in context, adds to the story, and is in no way gratuitous. 

Final thoughts on The Shift

I was able to watch the movie for a second time with my family to see if they shared my views. My teens, who are strong in their faith but harsh movie critics, really enjoyed it and commented on how well done it was. This is the generation grown up on TikTok, so I think that's saying a lot. 

They also mentioned that it was much better than the trailer hinted at; it was very well written and had good dialogue - something that's hard to discern from the short trailer. 

You'll probably be seeing a lot on social media, including many positive comments from viewers. You may be thinking, "Are they just saying it because it's faith-based?" And while I'm sure that colors the view people have of the film, it's not an inaccurate assessment.

The Shift takes a cast of very talented actors, throws them into a dark and imaginative world, and shows us what happens when tested. Many of us get tested daily and may not give much thought about the consequences. 

This isn't a movie about regret or shame. In fact, the main character makes many mistakes throughout the film, some with devastating results.

But throughout it all, he waits on the Lord. He understands, even in moments of weakness, that we are on a path so much bigger than any of us can really know. God, when not showing up in winged angels or vision of the Old Testament, reveals Himself in other small and hopeful ways. 

And in the end, when we choose to not put ourselves first, we are opening the door for goodness and closing it on evil. Love for our fellow man is of the Lord. It is holy. It is needed now more than ever.

You can see The Shift now in select theatres across the U.S., with more showtimes being added all the time. This is an incredible opportunity to be part of something unique in film. You don't want to miss it!

Wanna Win? We are giving one lucky reader two tickets to see the movie while it is in theaters. Note that you must be in an area where the movie is showing and live in the U.S. You have until December 2nd at 11:59 pm EST to fill out the entry form at this link.

Good luck!

(Prizes and review opportunity provided by Angel Studios. Opinions are my own.)