I remember seeing this advertised when it came out but didn't get around to seeing it at the cinema, so I recently rented the DVD instead. Not entirely sure what to expect, I tried to avoid some of the reviews and see for myself what it was like; it turned out to be more of a drama than anything other worldly, like I had perhaps anticipated, and although a slightly slow burner, it kept me watching all the way through until the end.
This was directed by Jeff Nichols who has worked on a handful of things, including Mud, though Take Shelter seems to be the first big piece of his. The film roughly falls in to the drama / thriller genres, though from the ads and images I remember, and the cover, it seems to suggest more of a supernatural thriller style. We're introduced to Curtis LaForche, a crew chief on a construction site in Ohio. He's married to Jessia and they have a young daughter, Hannah, who is deaf. His work's insurance should help cover some of the costs, including an upcoming cochlea implant, but money is still tight and although the family are a happy unit, you can see the stress starting to seep in.
Curtis is having trouble sleeping, being plagued by almost apocalyptic dreams and then even visions when he is awake. He sees a storm, one where the rain is orange and poisionous. The visions and feelings won't leave him alone; it feels so real, the images of birds and the sound of thunder both crystal clear warnings, but no one else can see or hear them. He wants to protect his family, even if they can't understand what or why he's doing the things he is, and takes a risky loan to build a shelter in their back garden. If the storm he can foresee hits, they will be safe. If it doesn't, then he will have put his family in jeopardy, lost a lot of money, and probably seem to be crazy.
The question of whether his visions and dreams are a product of mental illness is heightened in Take Shelter because Curtis' mother, who he goes to visit, has been in care for years having been admitted for paranoid schizophrenia. As the rest of the film progresses, we see the depth of Curtis' despair, the pressures it puts on his family and the mystery surrounding whether he is simply going 'crazy' like those around him think.
What I loved about the storyline was the psychological undercurrent than ran throughout. We gradually see Curtis becoming more paranoid, more concerned by this 'storm' as his hallucinations, if that's what they are, increase. The way he tries to hide his problems and concerns was a bit heartbreaking; you can see the stress it's putting on his finances, on his relationship with his wife, the risk he takes by wanting to keep his family safe versus having the funds to support his family and take care of his daughter's health. The cracks in his psyche are formed in quite a believable way because it's done slowly and carefully. We see the 'normal' Curtis and a happy family life, and how hiding secrets and his concerns over whether the 'crazy' runs in his blood takes their toll.
The cast includes Michael Shannon (Curtis), Jessica Chastain (Curtis' wife, Samantha), Tova Stewart (their daughter, Hannah), Robert Longstreet (Jim) and Shea Whigham (Dewart) amongst others. Shannon was excellent as Curtis, and you can almost see the storm in his eyes as his mind seems to be betraying him. The pull he feels between being sure he's sane and worrying he's crazy is palpable; I could start to empathise with him and his situation, and I started to care what happened to his character. Chastain plays the second largest role and does so well, being the supportive wife whose concern is plainly etched on her face. The characters fit their respective roles very well and there's no Hollywood sheen to them, keeping the film gritty and grounded.
The film overall had a good quality feel to it, but as I've said, there's no real Hollywood sparkle. It seems that time and money were invested in the script and characterisation and it shows. Whilst it was a little slow at times, Take Shelter is more of a drama, so expect for a slightly slower burner than you may expect. Having said that, it was made to be gripping thanks to the dark atmosphere created; the depth of characters and Curtis' psychological struggles are formed and built upon throughout, making me want to keep watching and hoping things turn out ok in the end, all the while wondering whether there's anything to his 'visions' or whether mental illness is about to rip his life and family apart.
Overall, this is one I'd recommend for its gripping and mysterious nature. It's a little slow and quiet on occasion, but bear with it. With fantastic acting from Shannon, an intriguing premise and the hook of wondering what's going to happen, this is one can keep you on edge watching until the end.
DVD released 2012, running time 121 minutes, rated Certificate 12
Selling on Amazon for £5.03
Take Shelter - Film and DVD review
Take shelter is a movie that was written and directed by Jeff Nichols and was his second movie of his three directed works to date. I had heard about the movie and felt it was an interesting concept and quite intriguing, so I decided to give it a view and here are my thoughts on that viewing.
Thirty-five year old Curtis Laforche (Michael Shannon) and his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) live in the suburbs with their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). Curtis has a steady job and Samantha makes cushions and fixes dresses for people to earn a little extra money.
The movie starts with Curtis standing outside in the rain. His stares at his hand which is wet with a golden liquid and as he looks to the sky a huge storm is forming.
The next night Curtis is bitten badly by the family dog and we think this is real until he wakes up in bed, soaked with sweat and realises it was a nightmare. All the same, he removes the dog from the house the next day and proceeds to buy a kennel, which he places in the back garden with fencing around it.
The nightmares continue and get worse and Curtis fears the oncoming storm.
Samantha learns that Hannah can finally have a major operation that may help her hearing and this is due to the fact that the insurance that Curtis has with his job is top notch.
Curtis meanwhile has become fixated with the storm shelter in the back garden. He takes out a bank loan that his bank manager advises against and buys a huge metal container. He digs a hole in the ground and places the container in it. He customises it with lighting and a toilet and stocks up on food.
We learn that Curtis's movie abandoned him in the family car when he was ten years old. She just left him there in a parking lot and was found a week later eating from a dumpster. She was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in her mid-thirties.
Curtis is worried that he may be suffering the same fate and goes to see his doctor, who refers him to a councillor.
Things start to spiral out of control and after losing his job Curtis has put his daughter at risk. He becomes ever more obsessed with the shelter. His friends and family think he is losing his mind and he is not sure himself as the delusions and hallucinations continue. The only problem is the fact that Curtis doesn't know if the shelter is to protect his family from the storm or to protect them from him.
First and foremost, this is a beautifully directed movie and the cinematography is top class. The principal photography from Adam Stone is breath-taking. Some of the scenes that are shot of the upcoming storm, whether real or imagined are simply sublime. There are also shots taken of birds flying in a huge group, like a giant shadow, which looks fantastic. The bird's scenes are obviously CGI or I would imagine so as they are part of Curtis's hallucinations. The art direction on this movie is simply superb and it gives you a real heavy feeling of impending doom that helps you to empathise or indeed, play along with the principal characters.
Michael Shannon is excellent in the role of Curtis. It has been well documented that Shannon made no attempt to study mental illness before filming because he felt that Curtis didn't know too much about the subject, so why should he. So in effect he actually found out facts as his character did. It is such a powerful performance and I think he deserves huge credit. It is quite a frightening concept to think that you could lose your mind and as we watch Curtis fall apart on the screen it is a stark reminder of just how fragile we all really are. Shannon plays the part to perfection and the viewer is left believing that Curtis has some kind of mental illness. He could have played the role differently and made the character of Curtis more violent or unlikeable, but I actually ended up feeling sorry for him and wanting him to succeed or to be right. He's a gentle giant of a man who is simply in pain and crying out for help. I think it is one of the best acting performances of 2011.
Curtis's wife Samantha is played by Jessica Chastain. I have to tell you of quite a funny coincidence here. On the evening I watched this movie I also watched 'The Tree of Life' afterwards and my girlfriend, who was in bed with a cold asked me to get her a movie, so I got her 'The Help'. Just three random movies on this night and Jessica Chastain, completely unknown to me, was in all three! Chastain plays a solid part as Samantha or Sam as Curtis calls her and I for one liked her performance. Again, she was believable and you really felt for her and her concerns about her daughter and her husband when Curtis started to act differently. She has that ability to appear like the dainty little housewife but underneath it all is a strong and confident woman. Some of the scenes with Shannon were really well acted.
Tova Stewart plays Hannah really well and I can't say enough about this little girl. She was seven years old at the time of filming in 2010 and she really is deaf. The most remarkable thing about her is that she had never acted before this movie and was taken along to an audition when the movie's producer and director appealed for someone to play the part of a little deaf girl. After seeing her performance you'd have thought she'd been acting all her life. She is so sweet and likeable and is one of the movies crowning triumphs. Her parents are both death and they must be so proud of her; I know I would be.
Some of the effects in the movie are really well covered as I mentioned with the birds and the storm scenes. Curtis has many hallucinations and nightmares and one nightmare scene has him cradling his frightened daughter in his arms as all the furniture in the room floats to the ceiling. Curtis struggles with the forces trying to pull him from the floor and when the furniture drops it feels like you actually experience the whole pressure in the room drop. It is a memorable scene and well filmed.
Overall Take Shelter is not really a movie for everyone. If you like action or horror movies then this will not be for you unless you also have a penchant for dialogue based movies. I refer to this film as a dialogue movie in the loosest possible terms because the visuals tend to speak for the plot at many points in the movie. It has been deliberately filmed in a slow fashion and really helps the viewer get that disjointed feel of how Curtis is acting. Nicol's doesn't film it in that meandering way to build tension or to give us a slow start which reaches a crescendo of plot links at the end; it is filmed that way purposely and I think it really works. A lot of people will find the film boring and you will hear people saying 'Nothing really happened' or 'What is it about?'. To enjoy this film you have to engage with it and embrace it for what it is. Take Shelter is a thriller and a hard drama that teeters on the edge of apocalyptic fantasy. It is a tour de force in the league of how this kind of movie should be made and it deserves every credit it gets.
I could go into my theories on the outcome of the movie but that would mean giving away the end and other spoilers, so I will refrain from doing so. What I will say is that surmising that the movie is mostly watched by sane people, it does make the rational man wonder if the character of Curtis is actually mentally ill or whether his emotions are just more open and tentative than the rest of us. Could it actually be the rational man that is nuts by not worrying about disaster? Didn't people balk at the men who predicted the Aids virus would become a serious problem? People who have lost their houses to hurricanes when everyone else took the government's advice and skipped town are not labelled as mentally ill but to stay attached to bricks, mortar and material things in favour of losing it all along with your life could be considered the act of a madman. I'm sure many people who have watched the movie have had or are prone to panic attacks and angry outbursts and a lot of symptoms that are not too far removed from the actions of Curtis.
It is certainly a thought-provoking movie and gives out a general feel that will resonate with a lot of 'normal' and sane people. It is powerful in its honesty and definitely a movie worth watching.
The movie is primarily classed as an art house film and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and also played Cannes to great acclaim and a generally positive reaction from the critics. It ran to a budget of just under five million and failed to make that back by only accruing just under four million worldwide. It is one of those movies that sometimes flies under the radar and doesn't hit mainstream cinemas heavily enough before going to DVD. It is a shame and one can only hope that it does eventually make the budget back through DVD distribution and sales.
The standard DVD contains a short 'making of' documentary and some deleted scenes. The US region 1 version contains two features, commentary from Director Jeff Nicols and a questions and answers session with Michael Shannon and Shea Wigham (who plays Curtis's friend Dewart in the movie). There are no exclusive extras on the Blue ray version.
I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars for the acting performances and the great direction.