Take Shelter (2011)
If any of you have ever bought a film from Amazon, you will know that they immediately suggest other films that you might also like, based on your purchase. ‘Take Shelter’ was one of these, and I waited until the price dropped, then bought the DVD some time ago. As I had exceptionally painful aching legs when I got up today, I decided to crack open a film, and relax for a while in front of the TV.
I have seen the brooding actor Michael Shannon in a few films over the years, but never really taken a great deal of notice of him, to be honest. Jessica Chastain is another matter. Very much on the rise; excellent in ‘The Help’, and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, she impressed me a great deal in ‘Lawless’ too. The cast looked good enough, the story appealed, and the director, Jeff Nichols, has done some interesting work since.
Be warned that this is a ‘slow film’. On the box, it is described as a ‘Psychological Thriller’. Like me, you might be thinking that this has become one of the most over-used descriptions in modern times. Its use can be irritating, as it is applied to everything from bank robbery films, to out and out horror. A better idea might be to think of it in terms of an ‘Unseen Apocalypse’. Far removed from dystopian dramas like ‘The Road’ it nonetheless deals with the possibilities of dark events yet to come, and the effect that has on the protagonist.
Family man and working stiff, Curtis LaForche, (Shannon) lives a pretty ordinary life in rural Ohio. Married to his nice wife Samantha, (Chastain) and father to their young daughter, Hannah, who happens to be deaf. They do their best to get by, pay their bills, and be part of the community. But then Curtis begins to have worrying dreams and visions. He sees rain fall like oil, swirling flocks of birds, huge tornadoes and terrifying storms. As the visions become more frequent, he begins to fear those close to him; family members and friends, even the family dog. His sleep suffers, his work suffers too, and his relationship with Samantha begins to deteriorate.
He decides to open up the old storm shelter in the garden, convinced that he will soon be needing it. Not content with that, he extends it, by burying a container to use as additional space, equipping the place with food and a toilet, and going as far as to buy gas masks. The extra money needed for the project puts the family at risk of financial ruin, and they have to pay for an operation to correct Hannah’s deafness too. This all takes a lot of time to happen on screen, in fact most of the film. In the meantime, we also see Curtis beginning to doubt his own sanity, based mainly on the fact that his mother has been institutionalised for most her life, after being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In the small rural community, colleagues, friends, and family members begin to worry about him too, as his obsession with the storm shelter continues to grow. But as the visions continue, so does his determination to protect his family from the disaster he is sure will happen soon.
There is no doubt that film is beautifully shot. Chastain gives a reliable turn as Samantha, and Shannon is excellent as the tortured Curtis. But it is not a thriller, and the only ‘psychological’ aspects revolve around the spiralling mental health of Curtis, and his inability to come to terms with the fact that he alone sees the visions. Not much happens, and the dreams and hallucinations are not even very scary, to be honest. Despite that, it is a moody piece that won many awards, and you see why. What redeems the film in some respects is that it makes you think, and it also definitely makes you want to stick with it, to find out what happens.
And if you do, you will discover that the ending is very good indeed. Don’t watch the end first though!