Curtis LaForche is having visions. A storm is coming and he is struggling with trying to protect his family and coping with the feeling that he also might be losing his mind.
‘Take Shelter’ is a film with many layers. It is a movie that doesn’t mind taking it’s time to establish its characters. And it is also one of the best films I’ve seen recently. Directed by Jeff Nichols with a million dollar budget. With that aside this film looks absolutely beautiful. The CGI is so well integrated and looks more realistic that what you’ve seen in a 50 million dollar film. Sound plays a huge part in this movie. The sound of wind sweeping the trees is almost a constant on the soundtrack. The movie perfectly captures the feeling of the world before a storm. The calm. The beautiful skies. The hue that the world takes on. The unsettling feeling that puts you on edge that something is about to happen. Something big.
Michael Shannon (who is one of the best working actors alive) plays Curtis. At the start of the film he starts having dreams. He sees the oil-like rain falling from the sky. Huge looming thunder clouds form in the field outside his house. At first Curtis just thinks it’s a bad dream and nothing more. But soon the dreams grow in intensity. A dream in which his faithful dog attacks him causes him to have pain in his arm all day in his waking life. He has dreams of his neighbors, who appear to have gone blank, attack his family and cause him to wake up gasping for breath, wetting the bed, and going into seizures. The nightmares in this film are truly terrifying. They feel like real nightmares and when they happen you aren’t sure at first if it’s a dream or if it’s really happening. Curtis is just a normal man at the start of this film. He works hard for his family, is kind to his wife and daughter(who has gone deaf), and appears to have, as his friend tells him one night, a good life. But that changes quickly in a drastic way.
Curtis soon starts having visions during the day. Hearing thunder when no one else seems to. Noticing the flight patterns of swarms of birds. He also notices the storm shelter in his back yard and starts putting a lot of time and money into building it up. At first he tries to hide his problems from his wife (played by Jessica Chastain)until a particularly bad nightmare forces him to open up to her about what’s going on. She is understandably concerned and wants Curtis to look into getting help. We find out that Curtis’s mother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and was diagnosed around the same age that Curtis is. At this point the movie makes a crucial turn. We are given a character; who we are not certain is really experiencing this phenomenon or if he is just suffering from a mental illness. Curtis doesn’t even totally believe that he is really seeing this but he continues on his work on the shelter nevertheless. He sacrifices for his family albeit in a new way which is only understood by himself.
To talk more about what happens in the movie would be a disservice. It really is a film that excels from not knowing much about what happens. However this is a film that really understands how to juggle themes and genre. It can be at times terrifying, at times extremely sad, and also touching. It’s a movie about coming to acceptance, whether it’s about a condition or just believing in someone because they need you to. It would easy to have the supporting characters just completely write Curtis off. His wife loves him, is concerned for him, but is also angry because she at first doesn’t fully understand why he’s doing this or what is happening to her husband. There is a pivotal scene towards the end of the movie that Chastain’s character forces Curtis to make a decision. Not because she’s giving him an ultimatum but because he needs it for himself.
The performances in this film are outstanding. Michael Shannon brings so much to the role and you can feel his pain and frustration. He also manages for you to feel sorrow for him and want to believe in him which is what any good actor can do in a role, is to make you care for a fictional character. Jessica Chastain is also fantastic as his wife Samantha. She is not just a one-note character, but has depth and feeling. Chastain is just starting to arrive in her career and I expect to seem amazing things from her in the future as well.
A lot of discussion has been made about the ending of the film being divisive. I think it was the perfect way to end the film and I’ll leave it at that. If you like to be challenged by a movie then this is the movie for you. It is a beautiful portrait that feels both gigantic and claustrophobic. It’s a movie that makes you uneasy and questioning at the end of the film. It’s a movie that is while feeling like it is plunging into insanity is at the same time in total control by the director and actors. And that is quite a feat. I highly recommend this movie.