Trailers for “The Shift” makes it look like a sci-fi suspense thriller, with some recognizable stars (chief among them, Neal McDonough, above) and competent special effects such that people jump between multiverses — that overused superhero trope that even made it to to Oscar-winning films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Then there’s a fairly heavy-handed shift in the tone of the film, too, from what looks like a competently produced but hardly out-of-the-ordinary sci-fi chase film to a ham-handed Christian fable with epigraphs from the book of Job, and tests from the Devil himself — as played by McDonough who with his familiar, piercing eyes introduces himself as The Benefactor. 

Following an accident, this Benefactor wants our protagonist Kevin (Kristoffer Polaha) to join his team. Every other version of Kevin in every multiverse has done so,  but this Kevin only wants to see his family again. He turns him down the Benefactor by doing the most confrontational thing imaginable: praying. It’s a gesture so strong it banishes McDonough’s Devil from Earth for five years (and for most of “The Shift”).

The world goes dark in familiar dystopian manner, scripture and prayer of course is banned, and there are squads of faceless police everywhere. There are rumors  of an underground hero called The Kevin Who Refused, who is biding his time, jotting down what he remembers of the Bible and giving them to his buddy named Gabriel (Sean Astin). 

All Kevin wants is to go back to his wife, who he learns has gone on with her life admirably in all the various multiverses, as a pilot here, a nurse there, as well as an artist, a teacher and mother. He learns this through a weird contraption run by a local theater owner (another familiar face, John Billingsley) in which glimpses can be made to the multiverses through a kind of virtual reality device. Looking like a barber chair ringed by candles, it’s more like glimpses provided by the Ghost of Christmas Past than the Holy Ghost.

And yet the religious metaphors continue to rain down. What’s galling is not that they are there, or even that you’re in the theater under the false promises of the trailer, but that they never mention the words Jesus or God throughout. There’s no cross seen either; instead, there’s a stylishly designed Christian symbol of the empty tomb and the words HE LIVES. It’s all part of an alternate world Christianity so stylized it might make Christians cringe too.

And the Christian world is behind of all this. Onetime Seventh Day Adventist missionary Brock Heasley first developed “The Shift” as a short film, but was blown up into a theatrical feature through Angel Studios, which began life as a company that removed naughty bits from Hollywood films and were subsequently sued by Disney for doing so. They’re the studio that puts out the TV series about Jesus, “The Chosen,” and had a surprise hit earlier this year with “Sound of Freedom,” about going after sex child trafficking rings that has been questioned for accuracy and for aligning closely with QAnon beliefs. Nevertheless it stands as the No. 10 top grossing film of the year with $184 million in domestic sales ($250 million when adding global gross). 

“The Shift” isn’t doing badly either, debuting at No. 8 of the week’s top grossing films when it premiered this month. Like “Sound of Freedom” it has done it in an unusual way, targeting the midwest, South and church groups and adding special messages at the end of the film that encourages people to “pay it forward” and buy more movie tickets to enable others to see it too.   

“We all know there are countless opportunities to be kind,” the lead actor Polaha says during the credits. “But I want to give you another chance right now. This holiday season, consider paying for someone else’s ticket to see “The Shift’ in theaters — someone who otherwise might not get to see it.” 

That’s right: If you are inspired by the film’s depiction of faith and hope, don’t donate money to charity to help feed or house the poor this season — instead, buy another ticket to the movie! There’s a QR code provided.

And hey, if you like that little necklace that replaces the cross, you get two free tickets with that when you buy it at their website as well. 

That kind of hucksterism, an expected aspect of TV evangelism, is now part of movieland evangelism, or at least capitalism, since they don’t ever mention Jesus.

 In his role, Polaha is solid enough in a bland TV drama kind of way. A veteran of such series as “North Shore,” “Life Unexpected” and “Ringer,” he has starred in seven Hallmark movies; his latest coming out the same week as this one, “A Biltmore Christmas.” 

Elizabeth Tabish is effective in her role as the elusive wife; she’s used to both this studio and this type of role since she plays Mary Magdalene on “The Chosen.” It was fun to see Sean Astin of “Lord of the Rings” fame in his role as Gabriel, and even better to see Billingsley, who has been in a myriad roles from “Star Trek: Enterprise” to “24.” And it might be just too easy for McDonough, of “Band of Brothers,” “Suits” and “Yellowstone,” to become the embodiment of evil at will.

The casting is likely due to the riches brought by a crowd-funding effort so big, it literally takes six minutes of the credits to see all 6,000 (!) of the donor names. And if you still want to get in on all of that, you can still add your name to what will be even more bloated credits in the eventual streaming and DVD copies. And there’s a QR codes for that too. 

“The Shift” is showing in theaters.