Review: ‘The Shift’ (2023), starring Kristoffer Polaha, Neal McDonough, Elizabeth Tabish, Rose Reid, John Billingsley, Paras Patel, Jordan Alexandra and Sean Astin

December 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Neal McDonough and Kristoffer Polaha in “The Shift” (Photo courtesy of Angel Studios)

“The Shift” (2023)

Directed by Brock Heasley

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “The Shift” (loosely based on the Book of Job) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man gets “shifted” to a multiverse, where he desperately tries to find a way back to his wife. 

Culture Audience: “The Shift” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that blend religion and science fiction, but “The Shift” has too much of a muddled plot to be enjoyable for viewers who want a coherent story.

Elizabeth Tabish in “The Shift” (Photo courtesy of Angel Studios)

“The Shift” wants desperately to be a clever mix of sci-fi and faith-based teachings, but the end results are jumbled and messy. This disappointing drama taking place in a multiverse has too many poorly written scenes and characters without much depth. The stiff and awkward acting performances in the movie do nothing to help improve the quality of this dull and incoherent film.

Written and directed by Brock Heasley, “The Shift” is loosely based on the Book of Job, from the Hebrew Bible. In the Book of Job, the story’s namesake Job is a wealthy man with a loving family. Satan tells God that Job will lose his faith in God if Job loses everything that’s meaningful in Job’s life. God allows Satan to test this theory, so Satan takes away Job’s money and family.

In “The Shift” (which takes place in an unnamed part of the United States), the Job figure is Kevin Garner (played by Kristoffer Polaha), who is seemingly affluent and happily married to his wife Molly Garner (played by Elizabeth Tabish). One morning, Kevin and Molly have an argument about bills that Kevin said he was going to pay, but Kevin lied and didn’t pay the bills. Kevin is upset when he gets in his car and has a car accident.

A dazed and confused Kevin wakes up on a deserted street and sees a man who calls himself The Benefactor (played by Neal McDonough, in yet another role as a cold and calculating villain), who tells Kevin that there was no car accident. The Benefactor doesn’t bother to explain to Kevin why Kevin has injuries on his face from the accident. It’s one of many confounding inconsistencies in this movie.

Kevin grabs The Benefactor by the lapels and demands, “Where did everybody go?” The Benefactor replies, “They didn’t go anywhere. You did. Are you sure you are where you think you are? Let’s get some dinner.” Kevin willingly follows The Benefactor.

Kevin and The Benefactor go to a diner, where this mysterious stranger seems to be a frequent customer, because the waitress (played by Ginger Cressman) already knows what he likes to order: steak and eggs with a tall glass of milk. Customers in the diner seem to know who The Benefactor is too, because they cower in fear when he’s in the room and are afraid to look at him.

During this uncomfortable conversation in the diner, The Benefactor tells Kevin that he has “shifted” Kevin to another dimension and says he has the ability to do this anyone. The Benefactor also says that several dimensions exist in this multiverse. Kevin doesn’t believe The Benefactor and tells him to prove it.

The Benefactor points out a terrified-looking woman in the diner. He says her name is Tina (played by Rose Reid), and he says he’s going to shift Tina to another dimension where Tina doesn’t exist. And sure enough, The Benefactor does that, much to Kevin’s shock.

Now that Kevin knows that he’s in another dimension where he can’t get back to Molly, he is given an offer by The Benefactor, who knows that Kevin and Molly had an argument that morning: “I can give you a Molly who’ll be exactly who you want,” The Benefactor tells Kevin. In exchange, The Benefactor says that all Kevin has to do is work with The Benefactor as one of The Benefactor’s shifters.

Kevin refuses this offer and starts praying out loud. The Benefactor becomes enraged and then literally vanishes. Even if viewers of The Shift don’t know anything about the Book of Job, it’s easy to see how the rest of this “good versus evil” story is going to go.

For most of “The Shift,” Kevin is a poor and homeless person who desperately tries to find his way back to Molly. Kevin is in an alternate world where The Benefactor’s disappearance from the diner has made the TV news. Kevin has become famous and is now known in the news as The Kevin Who Refused.

This notoriety has made Kevin somewhat of a fugitive. He finds himself scrounging around for food on the streets. And somehow, he ends up working at a rubble-filled construction site, where he meets a man named Gabriel (played by Sean Astin), who gives helpful advice to Kevin. Some mysterious soldier types call lancers, who have metal uniforms, helmets covering their faces and carrying guns. The lancers occasionally show up to try to capture Kevin, but he manages to escape.

There’s a dark and dingy movie theater that has been converted to a place where people can pay to see what’s going on in other dimensions. In “The Shift,” this multiverse dimension-watching is set up to look like a candle-lit room, where someone can wear a virtual reality headset while looking at a giant projection screen. Even though “The Shift” is a low-budget film, there is still absolutely no imagination in this movie’s production design.

It isn’t long before Kevin finds out about this theater and goes there to get clues on where Molly might be. The owner of this theater is named Russo (played by John Billingsley), who gets increasingly annoyed every time Kevin shows up. Kevin also meets a married couple named Rajit Nadir (played by Paras Patel) and Priya Nadir (played by Jordan Alexandra), who generously invite Kevin to stay with them in their family home.

“The Shift” continuously bungles the story by introducing new characters and then not giving them much to do or much purpose. The movie seems intent on having a lot of religious symbolism without meaningful explanation, and so this symbolism ends becoming a lot of clutter to the plot. It’s like giving someone a puzzle to solve with clues that are ultimately useless.

It should come as no surprise (because it’s already shown in the trailers for “The Shift”) that Kevin sees Molly living a very different life in another dimension. Because Kevin has been “shifted,” he no longer exists in the dimension where he used to live. The movie becomes a chaotic mush of Kevin trying to figure out how to get the dimension where Molly is. Viewers of “The Shift” will feel like they’re stuck in a dimension where this terrible and boring movie exists, and they can’t get their time back after watching “The Shift.”

Angel Studios released “The Shift” in U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023.

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