Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain
Runtime 120min - Rated R
4 Stars (out of 4)
My wife is not the biggest fan of subtlety in movies. Despite its subtleties, Take Shelter held her attention for the entire 2 hours it graced the screen. That's because its appeal is multifaceted.
The premise involves the main character having apocalyptic visions about storms. It's never quite certain whether they are premonitions or hallucinations. That's the kind of thing that hooks me on a film. I like being held in suspense for a couple of hours as long as the payoff is satisfactory.
So why did my wife like "Take Shelter" as much as me? In addition to its suspenseful fantasy elements, it's also a world-class family drama. You could see this film as being about a small-town couple facing financial crisis while trying to raise their deaf daughter. If the threat of imminent destruction were left out, the movie would still be enjoyable.
Curtis (Shannon) is a labourer who is the main bread-winner for his wife and daughter. One night he dreams about a massive storm approaching his land. The rain isn't normal. It seems to have both the consistency and color of fresh motor oil. He wakes up frightened, but largely unconcerned. It was just a bad dream.
The dreams evolve and become scarier. Now it's not just rain, but people trying to hurt him and his family. Early on in the film, Curtis dreams that his dog attacks him while the storm is approaching. The next day he creates a fenced-in area for the dog to live. His wife Samantha (Chastain) is a little alarmed since the dog has been inside his entire life.
Since the dreams disturb his sleep, Curtis' doctor prescribes him some mild sedatives. It works. He sleeps the full night with no nightmares. Things seem to be getting better until his visions start plaguing him during waking hours. Now he has to deal with hearing claps of thunder and seeing electrical storms that no one else can perceive.
At about Curtis' age, his mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He seeks out his mother in her institution to see what her first symptoms were. Those symptoms turned out to be alarmingly similar to Curtis' visions. He understands this and seeks help. So far he's kept all of these visions to himself, so he forgoes seeing a psychologist in a nearby city and settles for a "counselor" closer to home.
Though he understands that he probably has schizophrenia, he's not able to ignore these visions. Curtis becomes obsessed with preparing for the oncoming storm regardless of what condition he may have. Since he lives in the mid-west, there's already a small underground storm shelter in his yard. He spends his nights cleaning out the shelter and stocking it with food and supplies. Still not satisfied, he borrows a back-hoe and digs out around the shelter. He expands the shelter with a modified storage building and installs ventilation. He also manages to get electricity and running water to the shelter. To cover all his bases, he makes sure to buy some gas masks and oxygen tanks.
The cost of these preparations is devastating. He borrows against his home to finance the project. While the loan is costly, losing his job is the bigger problem. His employer didn't appreciate his use of company equipment for personal reasons. This all happens at a time when he is supposed to be saving money for his daughter's cochlear implant surgery.
Was it all worth it? Is there a storm? Is he just hallucinating?
You won't find out from me. Actually, you really don't find out from the movie either. The ending could be interpreted a number of ways. I prefer the most direct interpretation.
Michael Shannon is a phenomenal actor. He has a knack for playing characters who bottle everything up until they eventually burst with emotion. This character is no exception. After losing his job and being called out on his mental issues, Curtis is convinced to attend a Lion's Club luncheon by his wife. A confrontation from a co-worker turns out to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Curtis lashes out at the entire room, warning them about the oncoming storm. Shannon plays the scene with an obsessive anger. It's probably the most unforgettable moment in an totally unforgettable film.