Friday, October 21, 2011


TAKE SHELTER is a film that has been quietly cleaning house on the international film festival circuit in 2011, and rightfully so; between stunning photography, a powerful story and a knockout performance by Michael Shannon, the movie is a trip through dread and fear…all while being based upon love.

Curtis (Shannon) lives in a small town with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their six year old daughter Hanna (Tova Stewart) who is deaf. Their money situation is tight as they make plans for ear surgery for their daughter. Curtis begins having nightmares about a cataclysmic storm; nightmares that are so powerful he believes them to be either true or an omen, and the visions and hallucinations repeat in the daytime. Keeping the nightmares and visions to himself, he channels his fears into building a storm shelter in their backyard; an endeavor that drains their bank account and threatens his job along with Hannah’s surgery.

So TAKE SHELTER is a little bit of FIELD OF DREAMS with the Noah’s Ark fable mixed in. The territory feels familiar, but it works because the focus here is not the question of Curtis’ sanity (although it does hang throughout the film), but on his love for his family. Throughout the movie, he risks everything he has worked for to protect his family which he loves deeply. In a film where his fantastical nightmares play such an important part, it’s that simple love for his family that the audience can instantly connect with.

Director Jeff Nichols’ directing style is perfectly suited for TAKE SHELTER. His careful eye meticulously frames each shot with stunning backgrounds, and his talent for tension, dread and horror come to life in the nightmare sequences. Nichols manages a constant forboding over the entire film which never intrudes, but the audience is always aware of its presence.

Michael Shannon’s performance is one of a lifetime. His near-silent method of conveying fear is always there and is convincing throughout. Jessica Chastain also nails it as the supporting and confused housewife; perfectly suited to play the loving mother trying to hold her family together.

On the surface, the finale feels a little drawn out and anti-climatic; right up until the mind-blowing ending which turns the entire film upside-down. It’s a turn that M. Night Shymalamadingdong might have attempted in his prime. Fortunately for TAKE SHELTER, the film does not hinge everything on that turn, and never wastes time playing guessing games with the audience. Its focus is always on love and family; and that’s never a little thing.


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