‘Take Shelter’ Review
A review by SLAMADAMS
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, and Shea Whigham
Plot: A family man starts having visions of a coming storm. He is torn between his fear that they are real and the fear that he is just simply losing his mind.
Take Shelter starts off taking advantage of basic horror tropes. It has creepy, ominous score that plays periodically throughout. The apocalyptic visions slowly reveal more and more of what the main character is actually seeing, and they usually consist of some kind of jump scare. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They are preparing you to expect other tropes. Everytime the main character looks in the mirror, I kept waiting for him to look away only to be scared. I kept waiting for something to come around the corner or smash through the windows. The cinematography and tone just seemed to push the plot in those directions, but it never pays off. It is a semi-satisfying experience to be brought to the edge of your seat yet never driven back into it. It had an uneasiness comparable to No Country for Old Men.
Michael Shannon is cast as the main character. He is one of the most exciting actors to watch even when he is doing nothing. There is a lot of activity behind the eyes. His quiet resolve speaks lengths. He also has amazing chemistry with Jessica Chastain, who plays his wife. They seem like a genuine couple. The way they laugh, show affection, and fight are all very genuine. In their small interactions, there is an air of improvisation, rather than a rigid scripting. This extends with how they deal with the plot. It doesn’t take Shannon long to reveal the dreams to his wife or that he is making strides to fix it rather than skirting the issues. Whenever you see a character lie to a spouse, you immediately know that that will come back to bite them on the ass and hate the character for taking such measures. Instead, we get to see this couple deal with the problem with rationality and honesty.
That fact helps make it more terrifying because of how real it is. Mixing the horror genre with legitimate family drama is a brilliant move. It pokes at some real-world fears: unemployment, loss of community, and tragically handicapped children, on top of which, they add a level of pseudo-supernatural elements. It is just painfully slow. It tries to find the nuance in nothing, but most of the time I just wish it would hurry up and get to where it was going.
About the ending. After I walked out, I couldn’t help but register the ending as literal. After all their hopes and rationale, they conclude that the visions are not real only to end up seeing the storm before the credits. But this movie tries hard to not be cliche or mainstream that that cannot possibly be the ending. There has to be a more ambiguous meaning. If we were to believe that this was another dream, it takes on a whole new meaning. There is A Beautiful Mind thing going on where Shannon knows he is crazy and is capable of dealing with the real and unreal as it happens. That is why it is important to watch his behavior. Instead of panicking, he protects his child and immediately faces his wife about the oncoming danger. This communication is important because he is no longer allowing his visions to drive him and everyone he cares about apart.
EIGHT out of TEN