Maybe I saw a different film than everyone else, but I was distinctly underwhelmed by Take Shelter (2011). The new thriller by writer / director Jeff Nichols has won some of the biggest plaudits during this year’s award’s season and has consequently had critics in raptures. Well unfortunately not this one – I’m afraid I just didn’t get it! That’s not to say I didn’t find it beautiful to watch as it has some wonderfully composed scenes which will truly take your breath away. But this hardly makes it thrilling.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) lives a normal, uneventful life with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their six-year-old deaf daughter in small town Ohio. However when Curtis suddenly begins to have dreams which depict an encroaching storm of apocalyptic proportions, his resulting erratic behaviour begins to concern his wife. Then the full extent of his visions become apparent with devastating results for all concerned.
The underlying problem with Take Shelter is that, despite building-up to a supposed ‘earth-shattering’ climax, nothing really happens.
It sets up the scene of Curtis’ increasing paranoia, the main crux around which the story is built, effectively with Shannon capturing his characters eventual breakdown in an evocative and realistic manner, to the extent that your heart goes out to the man whose family background and, though basically happy, humdrum life begins to ware him down. His ‘Noah’ like warnings of the coming apocalypse, which fall on the deaf ears of his neighbours and friends, are told with just the right degree of manic conviction to lend the performance an air of believability. Chastain, who is currently making a name as one of Hollywood’s most sought after young actresses, gives a hard-hitting portrayal as Curtis’ sympathetic wife whose love for him and initial tolerance of his increasingly bizarre behaviour is pushed to the limits of endurance, when it starts to effect not only him but her and their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) as well.
The one thing in the film which will probably keep you watching to the end is the way it looks. The strange dreams from which Curtis suffers are suitably chilling, and the freak weather that he sees as the forerunner to the forthcoming ‘Armageddon’, is mesmerisingly depicted with storms, lightning and flocks of birds that would be enough to freak out the sanest of people.
The truth is that as a moving study of a man’s downward spiral into self obsession and introspection Take Shelter plays out beautifully. However this doesn’t make for a thriller which is what the film sells itself as, and as such disappoints dramatically.