Review: Take Shelter (15) / Director: Jeff Nichols / Screenplay: Jeff Nichols / Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham / Release Date: Out Now
Imagine the scenario; you start receiving eerie, powerful and shocking visions of an apocalypse and how it affects your family. The dreams and visions don’t fade over time but instead increase in volume and intensity. What do you do? How do your loved ones react to your chosen path? It’s this simple yet unique conceit that Jeff Nichols’ second film as a director, Take Shelter, explores in a thorough and absorbing manner. The film is already under the radar thanks to the limited release it got late last year. Take Shelter is a film that deserves your immediate attention now that it’s out on DVD.
The film takes place in the recognisably familiar environments of small town America that Stephen King likes to call his home. Curtis (Michael Shannon) is plagued by visions of an epic storm and strange rain that affects people in homicidal fashion. The visions and dreams are so intense that they affect him physically as well as mentally. Worryingly Curtis has a family history of mental illness with his mother being diagnosed as a schizophrenic at roughly the same age Curtis is. His beautiful wife (Jessica Chastain) is understanding although clearly troubled by the fact that Curtis begins to build a shelter in their back yard.
The film works on a few levels, mainly as a study of mental illness with performances for the ages and also as a thoroughly modern re-telling of the Noah’s Ark myth. It’s in the study of possible mental illness where the film is most successful. Michael Shannon is quite simply amazing as the everyman suddenly thrust into self-doubt and turmoil by his visions. There is a well of emotion bubbling away just under the surface of the man and when it finally erupts it results in a classic scene of brilliantly judged acting by Shannon. Jessica Chastain is equally impressive in one of her several performances in 2011 that justifies the sudden hype around her. The writing and direction is top notch, Jeff Nichols has a focussed, unfussy style very reminiscent of Frank Darabont and, instead of having it be a simple back and forth between Shannon’s ranting and the community disbelieving him, has the characters exhibit differing reactions. His best friend for example listens to Curtis, thinks he has issues but helps him anyway out of loyalty and eventually to his own detriment. Nichols throws in a subplot about the family’s daughter being deaf and needing an expensive operation. This works as a nice counterpoint to underscore the desperation Curtis feels in his situation. He is so convinced of the coming Armageddon that he will risk the current health of his only daughter to protect her from certain death.
The Noah’s Ark subtext is not blatantly there in the way it would be in a lesser director’s hands but should you be prepared to give it some thought it’s undeniable. In the Noah’s Ark tale, Noah is informed by god that a great flood will be coming and to take two of each animal on to an ark in order that life survives and can re-build. Imagine this story in a modern setting and that’s pretty much Take Shelter. You can see the visions Curtis experiences as a test of faith whilst all around him have doubts. Is Curtis chosen? Is he a prophet of some sort? The film offers no easy answers and asks you to make up your own mind.
The ending is one that will divide people but also provoke serious thought and debate like the best cinema can. Take Shelter is a mesmerising film not to be missed.
Special Features: Behind the scenes with director and cast commentary, Deleted Scenes.