We all have those dreams that seem not only plausible, but take a while to adjust back to reality after being jolted back into the conscious world. In Take Shelter, Curtis (Michael Shannon) has visions of an impending storm which will wreak havoc upon the land repetitively plague his dreams. At first he casts the dreams aside. However, as the dreams continue with frightening frequency, Curtis begins to refurbish the tornado shelter in his backyard. This refurbishment becomes an obsession as the dreams begin to fracture his stance on reality.
Meanwhile, Curtis’ wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) is focused on the upcoming auditory operation that their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) is set to have. The operation relies on Curtis’ extremely generous health care plan and is placed in jeopardy when his tornado shelter obsession takes priority over sound and rational decisions.
Jessica Chastain gives yet another terrific performance in her omnipresent breakout year on screen (following The Tree of Life, The Help, The Debt, Coriolanus and Wilde Salome.) Kathy Baker also gives a wonderful albeit short performance as Curtis’ mother who was institutionalised twenty years prior, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Her paranoia is not overplayed and her sedated nature is perfectly clear, and potentially spelling out Curtis’ future.
Michael Shannon is the standout performance in the film, however. In fact, it may be one of the best performances of the year. He manages to impress through his understated portrayal of a man dealing with paranoia and premonitions. There is one scene where Curtis explodes rather rampantly at a community gathering that seemed too erratic. Despite this, it still seemed to work as establishing that his character is on the brink of insanity, if not being too efficient.
I am not huge fan of the apocalyptic/psychological thriller genre, and so Take Shelter was a surprise for me. Exploring the emotional frailty of a man beset by psychological problems grounded the film in an interesting conceit.
An incredible ending left me dying for the post film discussion that dissects the very ambiguous ending. Resolution is usually desirable, and when absent can instil an uneasiness in viewers. The lack of clear resolution worked really well and was a fresh way of ending the film, reminiscent of the Coen brother’s recent dark comedy A Serious Man.
Take Shelter is the brainchild of Jeff Nichols, who previously made Shotgun Stories, also starring Michael Shannon. His sophomore effort is an impressive piece of smart and deceptive filmmaking with incredibly balanced pacing. The storm scenes especially are visually breathtaking, making Take Shelter one of the best films of the year.
Take Shelter is in current release through Sony Pictures.