The Establishing Shot: Take Shelter Review

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Take ShelterWith the doom and gloom of the current economic climate lurking around every corner I have recently seen a number of outstanding American films like; Winter’s Bone, The Tree Of Life, The Help, Red State, Texas Killing Fields and Take Shelter, seemingly mirroring the shift in the USA’s current outlook. That is, a shift from an international outlook, to a more insular focus as well as a return on importance being placed on people rather than high concept.

These films are studies of issues effecting pedestrian small town life (sometimes the dark underbelly of rural life) and all have a very strong focus on family. I’m sure it is pure coincidence that Jessica Chastain is in four of these films.

Along with the increasing financial pressures cracks have started forming in our Zeitgeist further widened by the apocalyptic buzz brought on by talk of the oncoming Mayan 2012 apocalypse (since said to be completely unfounded) as well as America’s own religious Rapture planned to take place on September 6, 1994, , May 21, 2011, October 21, 2011. Oh! I’m unsure of the exact new date. But these are trying times and this is the ominous feelings that Take Shelter taps into with it’s titular warning.

Video: Take Shelter Trailer

Take Shelter for the most part is a frustrating, tense and supernatural look at an everyman’s seemingly slow descent into madness. I say frustrating, because, as Curtis (Michael Shannon) slowly slides further into his own hell - dragging his family with him - he makes every reasonable attempt to have his condition seen to and diagnosed.

Michael Shannon, easily the best thing about Sam MendesRevolutionary Road and certainly one of the many fine things about Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire is Curtis LaForche small town Ohio father and local digger crew chief. Curtis and his dutiful Samantha (Jessica Chastain) have a lot on their plate, just getting by, further complicated by their deaf daughter's special needs. But like any family somehow get by.

But then Curtis starts having shocking and dark nightmares in which he sees incredible storms turning people into crazed zombie like attackers. The nightmares are shocking and so visceral that they affect his daily life, culminating in hallucinations affecting his behaviour. With a family history of mental disease Curtis’ erratic behaviour starts isolating himself from everyone he knows, as he seeks to have his condition diagnosed. Initially keeping his affliction a secret but when he puts a tornado shelter in the backyard and his symptoms become worse - the strain place the already isolated couple under stifling pressure.

The two stand out elements that I loved about Take Shelter are:
The performances. The entire cast are credible in creating a rural suburban world miles away from the usual Hollywood smaltz. Take Shelter is a world where a little thing like missing an appointment or arriving late for lunch actually has an impact on people and the dynamics of relationships. As Michael Shannon is the lead and has the bulk of screen time - key to the film working is being able to emotionally buy in to Shannon’s character, as well as care about his condition and the repercussions it may have on his family.

Shannon leads the way with his understated performance that keeps you in the thin grey area of being emotionally engaged whilst never allowing one to make predictions with any certainty on the films direction or outcome. As even he is unsure of what is happening.

This allows the cast to play off his central performance and breathe life into their characters dealing with one of their own's increasingly erratic behaviour.

The feel. A large part of what I enjoyed about Take Shelter was the ambience that is created by Director Jeff Nichols. It is in essence a supernatural doomsday tale but it doesn’t feel like it belongs in the genre. Instead it comes across as a borderline existential study of an ordinary man trying to hold onto everything he loves while it all falls apart around him. Made more poignant by his isolation from the rural community he calls home. Very much in line with the current zeitgeist of economic doom.

The ambience is created with simple set pieces, sparse use of small town dialogue, uncluttered locations, clean visuals and an unnerving use of music and silence continually building the tension while the story unrolls in a way that cleverly keeps you guessing at what is happening, but at the same time preparing you for the possibility that we actually be seeing a tragic film about a reasonable man slowly succumbing to a hereditary and degenerative mental disease.

If you are into serious film Take Shelter is a disturbing supernatural tale, permeated with dread that  focusses on the human aspects during the early signs of a possible dark future.

Take Shelter release date: 25 November, 2011

Take Shelter
Poster: Take Shelter
Take Shelter
Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham

The Establishing Shot: Take Shelter Review