Michael Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, your average everyday Joe, who begins to get haunted by strange dreams focus around a huge and devastating storm. These dreams leave him waking up in a pool of sweat, they are so vivid that the events that take place in the dream affect him while awake (a dog bite on his arm in the dream, leaves his arm in pain all day). He seems so sure that his dreams mean something that he begins to renovate an old storm shelter so he can save his family. Naturally this ‘crazy’ behaviour takes a toll on his family as his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) struggles to deal. Their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) is deaf, and they need Curtis to hold on to his job in order for the health insurance to cover her up coming surgery. It is apparent that Curtis is aware that his behaviour isn’t right, and he begins to question whether his dreams are real or whether he is falling victim to his own madness.
Sounds deep, and it really is. Take Shelter really tackles so many different elements that might not see apparent on the surface. It brings to light extreme paranoia, anxiety, fear, self doubt and faith. I believe the film is focused on showing the audience this story through the way Curtis perceives everything. I don’t think we are seeing it from any kind of reality aside from his own. He is almost in every scene, and we do not really see how his wife deals with whats happening aside from when she is around him for the most part. This really is a portrait of one mans decent into madness, and the sad part is that he suspects as much. The storm in his dreams represents his mental illness, and the worse the storm gets, the worse his mental state gets. Its core though aside from this, is the strong family unit, the love between the characters. Samantha tries to understand her husband, and what he is dealing with, she doesn’t simply leave him, she pushes him to deal with his issues.
Take Shelter wouldn’t work as well without its central performances, particularly that of Michael Shannon. Once the credits rolled and the lights came up in the cinema, my first reaction was “Wow, that has got to be the most normal I’ve seen Shannon and his character was clearly suffering a mental illness”. My statement is a clear indication of what types of roles he plays, so it was actually very different (and a nice surprise) to see him in this role. Yes his character is suffering, but Curtis is a regular guy, he works for a sand mining company and he supports his family. He’s a quiet man, and he seems content with his life. Shannon played each aspect of Curtis with such naturalism, it wasn’t over the top or unbelievable. He felt like a real person, a nice family man that could be living in your neighbourhood. Once the dreams start, his reactions really reflected that of someone confused and tormented. He’s aware that this isn’t normal and he seeks help, it is a performance that I personally could relate to and I could see myself perhaps reacting the way he did. Jessica Chastain who was just wonderful in Tree Of Life is just as wonderful here. She really made for a great counter-part to Shannon’s Curtis. They were a believable couple, and really expressed the love and respect they had for each other. Tova Stewart was just adorable as their daughter, and it rounded off a solid family unit. Kathy Baker was a nice addition as Curtis’ mother, and one of the possible sources for his problems.
Take Shelter is a film that I found to be both fascinating and compelling. It does not immediately reveal its intentions and its ending one of the most ambiguous endings I have seen form quite some time. It worked for me, as I had formed my own idea of what I was seeing and what it meant. I think each person will probably take away something different, and it will either work or wont. Jeff Nichols I believe has made a very strong and solid film, he wrote a very sharp and smart script and he knew exactly what he was doing. As I said the performances were fantastic, and it all came together really well. The direction was tight, the tension was built up rather well, and it was paced the way it needed to be for that full effect. The moments that really hit the hardest are the ones that divided the family, and put into question Curtis’ sanity. The film was beautifully shot, the cinematography was just amazing, perhaps one of the best I have seen in a film this year (next to Meek’s Cutoff). I was a fan of this film, and I really hope it finds an audience. My original rating was 4 on 5, however I have now adjusted it accordingly.