"Take Shelter" Review
One of the greatest fears of any human being is to realize they are slowly and progressively deteriorating into madness. Not having control of our actions, perceptions, and feelings while beginning to understand the threat that that means to our family and friends must be the stuff of nightmares.
That's the central idea of the great little movie that is Take Shelter, directed by Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud).
The poor horror vessel is Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), a loving father and husband who lives with his wife Sam (Jessica Chastain) and her little daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) in a small rural community in Northern Ohio.
Curtis is an honest construction worker who must deal with the challenges of having a deaf daughter and a modest life. In his rare free time, he shares a beer with his friend and co-worker Dewart (Shea Whigham). That's all. He is a man of routines, daily life, and hard work.
But in the last few days, poor Curtis has begun to experience intense nightmares and vivid apocalyptic hallucinations in which close people (and even his dog!) attack him. All in a threatening environment where a deadly storm is coming, triggering swarms of menacing black birds and a thick rain that looks like "motor oil."
Take Shelter is a slow but cohesive burn. The descent into the hell of Curtis is progressive. At first, he decides to hide his visions to his relatives. He begins to become obsessed with the future storm, devoting time, energy and money to creating a shelter in his house's yard.
Of course, reality begins to collide with the apocalyptic future that Curtis envisioned. Serious financial problems, paranoia, and uncalled hostility towards his friends and families (mainly for not sharing his same concern about the storm) end up convincing a part of Curtis that perhaps the problem is psychological.
The result of the free clinic consultation paradoxically doesn't help much to Curtis' mental health. His family's psychiatric history supports the theory of his incipient madness. His mother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia which on top of that, began to manifest more or less at the same age as Curtis.
Jeff Nichols' feat is that instead of letting the audience quickly assume that this is a story about a degenerative mental illness, it makes uncertainty the lead factor.
What's Your Rating For Take Shelter?
With names like Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham, is undeniable that the cast is of the highest quality. But it's the disturbing presence of Michael Shannon that holds the film together, by far. His great performance is what manages that the average spectator gets in the same degree of confusion and uncertainty that Curtis has.
Shannon manages to convey perfectly Curtis's palpable paranoia, his latent frustration, and his understandable fear of both being right and wrong. Both possibilities are terrifying.
That is why—coherently with the themes of the film—the ending is diffuse, irresolute and distressing.
Take Shelter uses Cassandra's syndrome strategically and, regardless of the viewer's interpretation, accomplishes its purpose. If the storm really came, it'll have worked as an excellent narrative resource of dramatic tension.
If we were always in front of a history of a paranoid schizophrenic, Cassandra's syndrome would have been a unique tool to make us empathize and understand the protagonist.
In any case, apocalypse is near.
Title: Take Shelter
Release Year: 2011
Director(s): Jeff Nichols
Actors: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards