Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take Shelter (2011) Review

It’s an apocalypse movie, but not one centered around the actual apocalypse or its aftermath. Rather, it looks into the events leading up to the cataclysmic event, and that build-up of suspense makes the story that much more riveting. Jeff Nichols’s primary cast of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain have an undeniably strong chemistry in this movie. You’ll have a hard time differentiating them from people in the real world.

That’s not to say the performances aren’t without flaws. Though Shannon give an amazing performance, he seems too understated at times, like he’s detached from the movie. I acknowledge that it IS his character, but when taken slightly past a certain level, it becomes something else entirely. Secondly, the supporting cast wasn’t nearly as strong as Shannon, though all of the characters did mix well together.

The fact that the movie has had me giving it so much thought after the credits (much like Inception did, but in a way that doesn’t feel as cheap or inconclusive) owes to the masterful direction. Throughout the movie, you see that Curtis, Shannon’s character, is plagued with sleeplessness and terrifying dreams accompanied by audio-visual hallucinations, all of which he attributes to his declining psychological health. This main plotline builds up nicely, gradually worsening until Curtis decides to build a storm shelter to protect his family against the tragedy from his nightmares. His obsession with this project leads him to becomes the talk of the town – and not in a good way. The way Nichols builds tension is realistic and stunning. Accompanied by incredible visuals, this film leaves a remarkable impact on you.

There are some other plots that at first seemed unnecessary to me. The one in particular I want to talk about is Hannah, Curtis’s deaf daughter. She wasn’t always deaf so she’s still in the process of learning sign language, and throughout the movie, Curtis and his wife work to train her in it. Watching the movie, I was thinking it was simply padding on to the run time – which, for what the movie is, makes for a grueling two hours – but the more I think about it, the more it seems that she was more of a symbol to sees the world through visions – and that causes a communication barrier. She wasn’t always deaf, and Curtis wasn’t always having nightmares. The two are one and the same in a way. That relationship comes under stress for a powerful, emotionally-driven scene near the end, though I won’t spoil it.

The movie does run a bit too long, and somewhere in the middle, I looked something like this. Granted it gets dull and boring from time to time and many scenes well expire their welcome, Take Shelter does manage to accomplish something that many movies simply can’t. It pushes us into a cloud of uncertainty and leaves us alone to judge for ourselves what is and is not real in the world around us. It teaches us to trust our instincts and to keep those who we treasure the most closest to us. Here is a movie that won’t soon be escaping us…primarily because we’ll see it at the Oscars.