It has a slow moving narrative in which the build-up surpasses the outcome.
Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is a gripping thriller about a man who is convinced that his dreams of an earth ending storm are a warning signs of impending doom. In almost every scene it is storming out which blend his dreams and reality together making it harder from him to tell what is real. The film has the right amount of unsettling suspense with such a genuine tone that makes it exceptionally eerie.
The opening shot of Take Shelter is of Curtis (Michael Shannon) staring up at dark clouds with yellowish rain splashing down on him. There is a storm coming or at least there is until Curtis wakes up from his dream. He is a caring father to his hearing-impaired daughter (Tova Stewart) and a loving husband to his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain).
Curtis has a vivid dream about a tornado coming toward him while his dog is barking furiously at him. After a few moments the dog snaps the chain it was tied up to and attacks Curtis, viciously biting his forearm. Curtis wakes up terrified and is sweating profusely. The rest of the day he clutches his arm now and then as if he was actually bitten.
Following that nightmare he starts acting more paranoid. He builds a fence in the backyard for his dog (who is normally an inside dog). After putting up the fence he moves on to cleaning up the old storm shelter that may not have been used for many years. He stocks the shelves of the shelter with canned soup; he is beginning to take shelter.
His dreams continue to get more frequent and start involving his daughter. In two consecutive dreams he is trying to protect his daughter from zombie-like people trying to steal her away. Each time he wakes up from these dreams his reactions get worse. First he was just sweating, then he was wetting the bed, and finally he bleeds and nearly has a seizure before waking up.
Realizing that he may have a problem, he checks out a book from the library on mental illness. But he does not stop there; he visits the doctor to try to get help. After the doctor prescribes him with some sleeping pills, he asks Curtis if he has been up to see his mother lately. It seems like an irrelevant question at first but we come to find out that his mother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.
Having just a simple shelter is not enough for Curtis. He becomes obsessed with the shelter. So much so that he takes out a bank loan in order to build an expansion to it, even hooking up running water and sewage. He borrows large tools for the project from his construction job which ends up getting him fired for doing so. His paranoia may not only cost him his job but also his family.
Michael Shannon has a breakdown scene that may be the best emotional scene of the year. His anxiety, obsession and paranoia increases with each passing scene which is played to near perfection by Shannon. His performance earned him well deserved recognition at the Independent Spirit Awards this year for Best Male Lead.
The role of Samantha must have come pretty natural to Jessica Chastain as she played a similar role as the wife and mother in the magnificent film The Tree of Life. However, this film is her role is centered on her dealing with her husband more so than her being a mother like The Tree of Life did. Overall she had an incredible year in films as she was also in The Help and Coriolanus.
Given the synopsis of Take Shelter, a man that envisions storms of apocalyptic magnitude, it took have easily took the path of laying it on thick with over the top science fiction ploys but thankfully instead it remained very conceivable. The plot may have been a little too thin for the 2 hour runtime. Take Shelter has a slow moving narrative in which the build-up surpasses the outcome. The final scene is quite satisfying though.