Stormy Situation: Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon stars as a man with apocalyptic visions in the chilling Take Shelter.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
It all begins with a nightmare. Hard working family man Curtis (Michael Shannon) sees a massive storm cloud bulging with veins of lightening approaching his family home. It begins raining, but the raindrops are something with the consistency of motor oil. And then his trusty dog breaks his chain and lunges at Curtis, sinking his teeth into his owner’s arm. From there, the visions grow more intense as rain-soaked humans attempt to invade Curtis’ house or truck.
The crucial question put forth early in writer/director Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is whether Curtis is going out of his mind, or having premonitions of an incoming cataclysmic event. As the movie progresses, Curtis’ daytime existence is wracked by the crack of thunder emanating from clear, blue skies and a vision of twisting clusters of flying birds, which provide one of the film’s most potent images. What the hell is happening here?
As these visions transform Curtis and his relationship with his family, he becomes obsessed with renovating a storm shelter in his backyard. It’s to director Nichols’ credit that his character’s decision to focus on the project at the expense of his family’s financial security in today’s down economy seems almost as scary as the jolting visions. For one, Curtis should be saving all his money for his deaf daughter’s upcoming procedure.
His obsession quickly becomes painful to watch. Curtis spends late nights with a lamp in the storm shelter out back and goes to some pretty extreme lengths to refurbish the structure while failing to tell his family and co-workers about his haunting visions.
Nichols effectively sustains a sense of dread – of an impending storm on the horizon – throughout the two-hour film without resorting to tricks. One way he does this is by utilizing a score from composer David Wingo that makes even the most banal scenes of everyday life feel ominous.
Currently, Nichols is shooting a dramatic feature called Mud starring Shannon as well as Hollywood stars Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. You’ll definitely be hearing more about this writer and director sometime soon.
Shannon, who also starred in Nichols’ first film, 2007’s Shotgun Stories, is no stranger to playing a crazy. He was the paranoid, insect-obsessed lead in William Friedkin’s movie adaptation of the play Bug and the unstable truth teller in Revolutionary Road, a role that deservedly secured Shannon an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Here he perfectly embodies somebody who is afraid they are losing their grip on reality while attempting to hide this unraveling from the small Midwestern town around him. It’s a powerful performance made all the more potent than most for being subtle until a powerful explosion of emotion late in the movie. In addition, the suddenly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain – who has been in The Tree of Life, The Debt and The Help over the last few months – excels as a wife who wants to support her husband despite his increasingly eccentric behavior.
As the end of the film comes near, there are only a couple of ways that Take Shelter could end. One is with a literal apocalyptic storm and another is with the realization that it’s all in Curtis’ mind. While the final scene is not totally unexpected, the way that it is done is chilling.
Take Shelter isn’t a passing storm. It stays with you.
TAKE SHELTER (3½) • Directed by Jeff Nichols • Starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart • Rated R • 120 min •At Osio Cinemas.