Take Shelter review

Take Shelter is an ominous, absorbing feature about a man whose nightmarish visions of an apocalyptic storm threaten to engulf his life, driving him apart from the very people he is most desperate to protect. It is the latest film from writer/director Jeff Nichols and one that will surely establish him as a force to be reckoned with on the big screen.

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) lives a simple but happy existence in small-town Ohio, with his loving wife Samantha (Chastain) and deaf daughter Hannah (Stewart). Their life isn't perfect - money is far from abundant, and Hannah's condition hampers her engagement with other children - but it is a picture of familial devotion. But as Curtis’ sleep is ravaged by doom-laden dreams that grow increasingly terrifying and closer to home, he starts to come apart at the seams. He becomes fixated on constructing a subterranean storm shelter in his yard: he builds fervently as the rest of his life crumbles around him.

Shannon and Chastain both give magnificent performances, nothing less than what we would expect from two actors who are fasting proving the heavyweights of this onscreen generation. Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) excels at playing these roles of the reticent, troubled individual, obsessive compulsions always threatening to outcast them from society. Chastain portrays with a kind of frenetic poise a woman who is watching her husband unravel and is powerless to stop it.

Nichols' idea for the screenplay came not during a time of crisis but of prosperity in his own life – and this is the result: a perverse study of love, a vision not of contentment and security, but unshakeable terror that what you hold most dear might at any second be torn from you. For all the apocalyptic dreamscapes and supernatural hints, the film explores very real fears that are relatable for all of us. How do we protect the ones we love? Do we protect them form the outer world or from ourselves? And, perhaps most crucially, do we strive to protect them for their sake, or for our own? Whether the visions in Curtis’ head are presentient warnings of some terrible disaster or just the onset of madness is, to some extent, of little consequence. He is undoubtedly acting like a man deranged – but the long brooding shots of the vast flat Ohio landscape, pressed down by an endless sky, give great resonance to his sense of isolation and impotence in the face of the unknowable forces of nature.

But what is it angling at? Is it a story about an actual meteorological crisis? Is it a metaphor for the ravages against the individual psyche of - what? Capitalism? Mental illness? The answer is, it could be read as a bit of each. The film does what very few films are able to achieve and simultaneously suggests a number of possibilities without allowing itself to become mired in one. Like Curtis, we watch with horrified uncertainty, unsure what to believe – and even when the film draws to its devastating conclusion, we are to a certain extent left to draw our own.

This is a film beautifully honed in every aspect. The storms are both horrifying and beautiful. Sound is wonderfully deployed: the aural impairment Curtis suffers during his dreams give a terrifying insight into the loss of a crucial sense and highlight his daughter’s own bubble-like existence – and her ostracism from the speaking world reflects the isolation that Curtis comes to feel more and more intensely.

This is a disturbing feature – but one that will stay with you long after the other films have faded from your memory.

Official Site
Take Shelter at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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