Monday, January 30, 2012

Take Shelter

By s. Monday, January 30, 2012 , , , , , , ,
94/100 (120 min, 2011)
Plot: Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham

"Is anyone seeing this?"

I love watching movies without knowing anything about them. I thought "Take Shelter" will be a story of frantically religious man since I heard he is having "apocalyptic visions". But religion is not a factor in this story. The fact this man's visions are apocalyptic comes from the fact they are paralyzingly scary. They depict things that would frighten every single one of us - beloved pet attacking you, your child in peril, stranger outside your window who then tries to enter your house. Curtis, the main character of the story, suffers those visions through his nightmares and begins to question his sanity.

The best thing about "Take Shelter" aside from its incredible atmosphere is that as Curtis himself, we do not know the reason for his visions. His mother is schizophrenic so he thinks that he is too. When he takes pills the doctor gave him to calm him down he becomes  a little bit better. But then the visions come back, being more and more insane. There are evidence for both reasons - either he is indeed crazy or something terrible is happening. Curtis decides to build a shelter, to protect his family which causes a tension between him and his wife Samantha. But he is determined - if what he is seeing are the signs of what is to come, he wants to do everything to keep his loved ones safe.
The visions Curtis have are the scariest thing I've seen in a long time - they are not gory, there are no things suddenly jumping out of nowhere. But the tension and the intensity of those scenes is incredible. The best sequence features his wife Samantha who is standing in the kitchen, soaking wet, looking at him. She appears almost as if she was to brutally launch herself on him at any moment. And then she slowly and eerily turns to the knife that lies on the counter next to her. What will she do? Will she take the knife to herself or will she attack her husband?

Michael Shannon is an incredible actor - whenever I see him on screen he just makes everyone around him almost irrelevant. He has such a powerful screen presence and charisma, plus he always appear to be completely unpredictable. As Curtis he channels incredible vulnerability and fear - he keeps everything to himself, not to alarm his close ones and he tries to find the solution for his present situation. What's remarkable in his performance is that even when he is yelling or even when he holds the key to the shelter he is locked in with his wife and daugther he is not scary - he is so frightened and determined to protect his family the only emotion you feel is a deep sympathy for his character.
Jessica Chastain's character Samantha is very interesting - at first she appears very unpleasant, although she is shown caring deeply about their daughter, who is deaf. But to her husband Samantha is almost controlling, very demanding, eternally complaining. However, as soon as Samantha learns about her husband's troubles Samantha turns into Chastain's character from "The Tree of Life" - delicate, understanding, loving. The most touching scene occurs when after Curtis's meltdown Samantha just walks to him and puts her hand on his cheek. Through that gesture she is letting him know that no matter what happens, she will always be by his side, supporting him. No mater what, Curtis is not alone.

Stylistically the film reminded me a little bit of M. Night Shyamalan's movies - from before "The Happening". The sequences that take place outside Curtis's home, especially because of cinematography look a lot like certain scenes in "Signs". The powerful and hauntingly beautiful score by David Wingo at its most touching moments reminded me of violins from "The Village". That score takes the film to such stunning, ethereal levels - the piece "Storm Shelter" is one of the most impressive movie tracks I've heard in a very long time. The music parallels both the tension and mystery of the story and it's epic moments illustrate through music the beauty of Curtis devotion to his family and the love they have for him.
The film is filled with tension that brings Hitchcock's movies to mind - because Curtis visions start in the matter that is indistinguishable from reality you never know when they may occur and the fear of experiencing that intensity again is both exhausting and wonderful. Because of the anticipation and the unpredictability of the movie it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Especially the scene in the storm shelter, where Samantha pleads to Curtis to open the door is amazing - you have no idea what will happen, because in such a bizarre situation virtually anything in possible. They may lose the key, that is the sole way they can leave the shelter. Curtis may have the meltdown. They may run out of the oxygen. There are many possible outcomes, most of them tragic.

The film brings in a lot of red herrings that plant the idea of those awful things that can happen - through the stories the characters hear, through the conversations they have and through the TV news Curtis watches. You don't know what can possibly happen, because just as Curtis, we only know what he does and we only see what he sees. And the fact that he appears to be the only person who is sensing danger makes both him - and the audience - feel isolated.
 "Tale Shelter" has a fair share of the unknown in it - the movie begins and ends in similar matter, with curious oily rain falling on character's hand. You have to watch movie very carefully and not miss a single line to decipher that mystery as well as the others.

The ending of the movie caused some discussion - it's quite ambiguous although there are hints towards one answer. In one interpretation it shows the family coming to terms with  what Curtis is facing. In another, they are coming to terms with what all of them are. I took the ending at face value, which made it incredibly tragic, unique and very beautiful end to the movie. Especially Chastain's reaction to the scene and her last word in the movie is very affecting. But which ever answer is correct, we are looking at that family, standing together, no matter what. And that ending is the movie's most impressive sequence - beginning with a gesture Curtis's deaf daughter shows. And when she does that you are overwhelmed by fear again.
"Take Shelter" is along with "Moneyball" one of those films that kick in after some time, which is particularly curious because these are such different movies. You can't take them out of your mind - the eerie atmosphere, the drama this man is going through and the gorgeous ending are so subtle and affecting you can't shake them off.


  1. Great review! Really glad you liked this one and Shannon is wonderful here.

  2. Excellent review, sounds like a crazy good film to me!

  3. Well this is one from last year I missed. I'll be sure to see this one soon. Fantastic write up!

  4. You are my hero for creating a GIF out of one of my very favorite shots of the year. Kudos!

    Not to sound too sheltered, but is it hard to make those?

    1. No worries it's quite complicated stuff. I took this one from tumblr but to make your own you need a program called virtual dub - you extract a part of the video file you want to make gif from. Then you have to have gif making software, I think Photoshop has that option. It's a long process, so I usually just search the tumblr for gifs :)

  5. Had tension and mystery as you say, and I was interested to find out what would happen to family, but overall I found Take Shelter to be a bit shallow. Maybe I missed something important. I have to say it was entertaining ( :

    1. I think it's one of those really deeply focused films one has to enjoy the subject or be very fascinated by it to fully appreciate such film, I was always very interested about mental illness/hallucinations stuff, so I usually enjoy movies about that.