‘The Shift’: Angel Studios Scores a 2023 Trifecta

The Book of Job is given a new spin in this mostly modern-day mystery thriller.
‘The Shift’: Angel Studios Scores a 2023 Trifecta
Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha), in “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)
Michael Clark
11/30/2023
Updated:
1/5/2024
0:00

PG-13 | 1h 55m | Science Fiction, Mystery, Thriller | Dec. 1, 2023

In the wake of “Sound of Freedom” and “After Death,” upstart Christian film distributor Angel Studios scores its third straight winner of 2023 with “The Shift,” a modern-day retelling of the Book of Job.

As with the two previous 2023 Angel feature efforts, “The Shift” retains just enough of the tried-and-true Christian filmmaking blueprint to satisfy and placate the genre’s dedicated, long-established, dyed-in-the-wool fan base while embracing and putting the accent on more familiar, mainstream-friendly subgenres, in this case science-fiction, mystery, and thriller.

Just how many of the throngs of traditional Christian audiences will want to see “The Shift” is the great unknown here. While those already familiar with Job should find the parallels intriguing and inviting, the uninitiated might have trouble connecting the dots and could find the semiconvoluted, nonlinear narrative closer to a Quentin Tarantino flick than the usual, mostly sanitized, direct-to-video fare to which they’ve grown accustomed.

Meet Cute

Based on the opening title visuals, the story starts around 2007 with the global financial collapse. Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha) is a broker with Bear Stearns, is out of work, and soon goes belly up at a New York hotel bar. He is approached by Molly (Elizabeth Tabish), a fearless woman on a girls’ night out who is challenged by her friends to charm Kevin just enough to prod him into asking her out.

This prelude works like a charm, as Molly hypothesizes what will happen during their future courtship, which is played out flash-forward style on the screen. It’s one of the most innovative and compact “meet cute” scenarios in modern-movie history.

Molly (Elizabeth Tabish) and Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha), in “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)
Molly (Elizabeth Tabish) and Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha), in “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)

Pivoting on a dime, writer-director Brock Heasley, in adapting his own 2017 short film of the same name, takes “The Shift” from breezy rom-com to harrowing thriller with Kevin nearly losing his life during a traumatic traffic accident. Bloodied and disoriented, Kevin comes to with the help of a man identifying himself as “The Benefactor” (Neal McDonough).

With his cropped gray hair, pale complexion, and icy blue eyes, The Benefactor is initially an affable, concerned, backslapping type, whose demeanor quickly shifts from cordial to imposing not long after he and Kevin enter a restaurant where every patron and employee is on edge.

Gabriel (Sean Astin), in "The Shift." (Angel Studios)
Gabriel (Sean Astin), in "The Shift." (Angel Studios)
We get the impression almost immediately that all present have a past history with and are deathly afraid of The Benefactor, who would rather not offer an example of what he’s capable of by vaguely describing what he calls “shifting.” Because Kevin relentlessly presses the issue, The Benefactor pushes a button on his wrist and a waitress named Tina (Rose Reid) disappears into thin air, a fate soon imposed on Kevin.

Don’t Blink

Mr. Heasley deserves high marks for delivering a streamlined and efficient introduction to the story. If you blink at the wrong time in the first 15 minutes, you’ll likely miss something of extreme importance. Come to think of it, if you do so for the remainder of the narrative, the same thing will happen. This is not a casual watch. If you take a bathroom or concession break at any point, however brief, you’ll be completely lost upon return.

For mystery thriller fans, this is a huge plus, especially when the story is based on something with such a rich yet essentially simple premise.

The Benefactor (Neal McDonough), in “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)
The Benefactor (Neal McDonough), in “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)
A man is robbed of all that is dear to him by an exacting, malevolent force to the point where he must either denounce his maker, or concede, or agree to great sacrifices—most of which are mostly out of his control. He also must do so while operating within a construct with which he is unfamiliar, while often being misled and misdirected by others who seemingly are his allies.

Universal Appeal

At one point, one of the characters explains the basic summary of the Book of Job in 30 seconds or so without mentioning it by name, which only reinforces the source’s power and universal longevity. It was a dicey move on the part of Mr. Heasley, but it works.
Rajit Nadir (Paras Patel, L) and Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha), in "The Shift." (Angel Studios)
Rajit Nadir (Paras Patel, L) and Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha), in "The Shift." (Angel Studios)

Framing an ancient, much revered text within a modern setting might strike some as flip and ill-advised, perhaps even sacrilegious, which is understandable. However, taking a golden lesson and couching it in a manner that can make it more relatable to 21st-century audiences might not be the worst sin if the lesson is ultimately, if not fully, embraced.

If you see the movie, be sure to stick around through the end credits for a video message from Mr. Polaha.

Theatrical poster for “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)
Theatrical poster for “The Shift.” (Angel Studios)
“The Shift” opened in theaters on Dec. 1.
‘The Shift’ Director: Brock Heasley Stars: Kristoffer Polaha, Neal McDonough, Sean Astin, Elizabeth Tabish, Rose Reid Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes MPAA Rating: PG-13 Release Date: Dec. 1, 2023 Rating: 4 out of 5
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Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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