Curtis, a father and husband, is starting to experience bad dreams and hallucinations. Assuming mental illness, he seeks medical help and counseling. However, fearing the worst, he starts building an elaborate and expensive storm shelter in their backyard. This storm shelter threatens to tear apart his family, threatens his sanity and his standing in the community, but he builds it to save his family's life. Written by
Take Shelter is a brooding, psychological thriller that does a wonderful job of generating foreboding and unease, while hinting at bigger thematic questions.
Curtis is in construction, a steady guy in a steady job taking care of his family. His mate Dewart tells him, kindly and a little enviously, that he has a good life. That comment comes just as nightmares creep into the daytime for Curtis and the pressures of the possible descent of mental illness, and impending catastrophe, seep into his being. He makes the decision to tell no one but medical professionals. He needs help. But that does not mean his fears are unfounded.
Michael Shannon is superb as mad-or-is-he? Curtis. When he gives voice to his darkest fears in a very public forum, he is the definition of unhinged. Jessica Chastain plays his put-upon wife Samantha, and gets to test her range in a nightmare sequence where she is tempted by a breadknife and the sight of her husband's exposed neck. The look on her face had me pushing back in my seat.
The film opens with big, brooding questions. Is Curtis somehow psychic? Is the approaching doom related to their daughter's illness? Does the ever-present threat of economic ruin somehow inform these impending cataclysmic events? Horror film tropes are employed in the nightmare sequences, as Curtis wakes up just as he is attacked. This becomes slightly predictable at the third dream, and the film sags slightly in the second act. The two-hours plus running time is a tad flabby. But Shannon is commanding, the cinematography eerily beautiful, and the ending deliciously straightforward and ambiguous.
We live in uncertain times. Those who carry on blindly and trust it will be okay may be the maddest of us all. Take Shelter shows one man unravelling, and resonates with all our contemporary worries. Highly recommended.
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