To say that this film came out of nowhere for me would be a gross understatement. I first heard about it from someone who had seen the trailer, a person who – as far as I knew – was not an avid follower of movie news. The film seemed interesting, but it wasn’t playing anywhere remotely close to me, so I kind of forgot about it. But yesterday, lo and behold, the film appeared on iTunes, so I thought, “What the hell, I’ll give it a look.” I’m so glad that I did. Take Shelter is an extraordinary film.
Nothing is more off-putting to me than small, creepy films with little-known actors. The realism that those factors lend a film gives me the feeling that I’m trapped alone in this helpless situation. It’s uncomfortable. Now, this can work to a movie’s benefit on occasion, and it does so here. I’m going to try not to overuse the word, but “unsettling” is the perfect term to describe the film. Every moment of this film really rattled me. Take Shelter is about Curtis, a man (Michael Shannon) who begins to suffer from apocalyptic nightmares about a terrifying storm, and he subsequently becomes obsessed with renovating the tornado shelter in his backyard in order to keep his family safe. The dream sequences contain the film’s most striking imagery, and they contrast nicely with the rather drab surroundings of Curtis’s reality. For my money, I prefer the dreams in this to similar sequences in Inception. Unlike in that film, Take Shelter’s dreams are firmly rooted in its main character, and they reveal things about him in an interesting way. The imagery overall is pretty spectacular, but never in-your-face. There are one or two moments that are truly crazy, but for the most part everything is low-key enough. But a movie doesn’t have to be explosive to make its point, and Take Shelter proves that with panache.
Speaking of low-key, Michael Shannon’s performance is great. Late in the movie, I was ready to criticize him for playing what appeared to be a rather flat character, but in one scene he explodes with rage and insanity. It’s then that I realized the conscious choices that Shannon was making with his character. He doesn’t need to be mugging at the camera in every shot to show that he’s losing his mind. Jessica Chastain, meanwhile, further proves that she is one of the best actresses working today. If you looked at her entire 2011 filmography, her tremendous range becomes apparent. Much like Moneyball, though not to the extent that it was used in that film, the entire cast of the film plays their roles with less drama and more realism. In a film with such strange visuals, you really need to ground your audience in something. Take Shelter does a great job with that. And the characters themselves are well-drawn. They aren’t clichés or even archetypes. They’re just people who are forced into disquieting circumstances.
I really want people to see this film, primarily because the ending has the potential to spark a lot of discussion. I came out with an opinion on it that was shaped mostly by my fierce optimism and my desire not to feel empty and drained after the credits rolled. However, I can see how there are other arguments to be made, and I really want to make them with someone. In fact, I want to discuss the whole movie with someone. There are probably hours to be spent talking about this film. For that reason alone, and because the film is really worth watching, I encourage you to seek out this movie. Take Shelter is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and for purchase and rent through iTunes.