Curtis, who, barring his daughter’s affliction of deafness, lives the idyllic, hard working American’s life, starts to experience dreams and hallucinations of vivid realism that always climax in a devastating storm. So real do these delusions seem to Curtis, that he whole-heartedly believes them to be some kind of premonition and sets to work building an expensive storm shelter, but with a family history of mental illness, Curtis also realises that his very sanity could be teetering on the edge.
Actor, Michael Shannon, has one of those distinctive faces that you know you’ve seen in something, but can never quite remember what. That’s probably because he is so convincing as a character actor that you’ve totally bought every single one of his performances, and if you go check out his IMDB page you’ll be pretty shocked at how many films that he’s been in that you’ve seen over the years. He’s always been prolific but of late has started to make more of a name for himself, first by taking lead roles in such cult indie hits as Shotgun Stories and The Missing Person, then stealing the show as Agent Nelson Van Alden in the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire, which in turn has led to more high profile film work, and has crescendoed with the news that he will be taking the role of General Zod in the up and coming Man of Steel film.
It’s good to see that he still likes to go back to his indie roots though, as this latest collaboration with Jeff Nichols (writer/director of the aforementioned Shotgun Stories) has cult following stamped all over it, and if there were any justice, would’ve been honoured many times over at the various big award shows.
The film itself is a very small one, just a handful of great actors creating a duplicitous focal point for the viewer that will constantly have you questioning the actions of the lead and the reactions of the people around him. It’s a uniformly fantastic cast, all at the top of their game, but this is well and truly Shannon’s film, and he drags you along on his journey with such conviction that even the quietist of scenes are choc-full of internal contemplation/struggle. It’s the kind of performance that a spars script only adds to as Shannon uses subtle actions to replace dialogue in a way that is even more effective.
Jeff Nichols, for his part, has used no less restraint and nuance in his role as writer/director. You’re constantly right there with Curtis in his horrifying dreams, and just as fixated on their meaning as he is, and as their effects start taking a physical toll on him you can totally understand why he’d start loosing his grip and acting in a way that others perceive as somewhat nutty. Then the curveball of his mother’s history of mental illness gives us something else to chew on.
See, in films, when someone suspects that they are having premonitions, we actually come to expect that they are, they are the heroes of the film after all, but in life, if someone told you that they’d dreamt an almighty storm was on the way, and planned to barricade their family in an underground hideaway, we’d naturally seek help for them, and that’s the core of why Take Shelter is so affecting, until the very end we’re not even sure of what genre of film that we are watching. Is it a psycho-sci-fi with suburban roots in the style of Donnie Darko or is it a psychological drama in which we see the lead slip tragically in to the sad state of paranoid schizophrenia?
It’s perhaps a touch too long, but the protracted quiet moments only make the tense scenes all the more gripping, and for a smaller scale film, the apocalyptic dream sequences are well executed and totally convincing.
It’s hard to pick fault with, as it’s nearly a pitch perfect way of telling the story at hand, and as such some people may not like the subject matter, and therefore not enjoy the film, Lord knows, it’s not always an easy watch, but no one can detract from the expertise in which it has been pulled off, both in front and behind the camera.
Take Shelter was massively overlooked on its release in the theatres, so now it’s getting a home release, do it and yourself a favour, give it your time and attention, it most certainly deserves it.
B grade – for storytelling
A grade – for acting
B grade – for direction
Overall grade – B+
Take Shelter is released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 14th, 2012 in the US and on March 19th, 2012 in the UK, from Sony and Universal distribution, respectively.
Watch the trailer