It’s really hard putting your finger on a film like Take Shelter. There are various things in the film that director Jeff Nichols gets right, but he takes too much time building it up to a payoff that can go one of two ways. Everything about the film is really strong and stable, but the lacking story holds it down from being a great film. It had all of the ingredients for being a great film like Oscar caliber performers Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, but it doesn’t have the right recipe to mix everything together, resulting in a good film that might not be worth the trip to the theater.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a father of a deaf daughter and a husband to a beautiful wife named Samantha (Jessica Chastain). He’s an average middle aged American who works in construction with a good friend of his named Dewart (Shea Whigham). One day he has a very strong dream of a massive storm approaching. This storm consists of thunder, lightning, heavy clouds and a thick and mysterious rain that’s tinted brown. Curtis begins to have these dreams that branch into powerful hallucinations that begin to affect his everyday life. His dog bites him in one of these dreams and his arm starts aching all day. These aren’t ordinary dreams that can be shaken off with a changed eating diet or sleeping medications. Something is severely troubling Curtis and the line between real and fake starts to get mushed together.
He starts obsessing over this storm. He stocks up on canned goods and begins remodeling the storm shelter. While Curtis is drifting into a bizarre state of mind Samantha is left picking up the pieces. Their daughter is in the middle of getting a very important surgery so money is tight and family communication is key. Take Shelter works really well when its characters are interacting with each other, but when Curtis is left alone and the dreams start taking over the film feels like a constant loop of material. Weird dream, waking up in a cold sweat, continue building shelter, try explaining situation to others and go to sleep seems to be the daily routine for Curtis and while it initially makes for an interesting premise it soon becomes a tired film that spends too much time sitting in the mud.
Take Shelter is a class act film, but it’s too worried with keeping the viewer in the dark, only dropping hints and signs here and there. By the time the final moments unfold you’ve either stopped caring or fell asleep, which makes the payoff have less impact than it should. It’s a real drag too because I loved the path they chose to close it on, but I just didn’t care for the ride that had to be taken to reach the outcome.
Watching Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain on screen is a real delight. Both stars radiate charisma. Shannon’s slow descent into insanity is both sad and painful to watch. You really feel for his helpless character and you’re always guessing what’s real and what’s in his head. Not once did Shannon drop the ball in keeping the audience attached to the concealed Curtis.
Chastain continues to impress playing the backbone mother and incredibly considerate and caring wife. The shit she puts up with in this movie is almost unbearable, but she does it for unquestionable love. She believes what her husband tells her because that’s the only option she gives herself. She never gives up on him even after everyone else as written him off as loony. The connection these two share on screen is what made Take Shelter not a complete waste of time.
Unfortunately that is where the compliments stop. It’s not the story that doesn’t work, but it’s how Nichols chooses to piece it all together that feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone on repeat. Sure, maybe that’s what he was going for and I’ve seen others mention how much this film can be picked apart, but if you lose that basic interest, nothing else really matters. The film starts strong and keeps you sucked in whenever Shannon and Chastain are on the screen, but when it ventures off into dream state with Shannon it becomes less interesting and stale.
The ending does pick up the broken pieces, but only for a brief moment. It would have been so much more powerful had the rest of the story continued to engage and question, but instead it’s just set on cruise control, occasionally dropping a strong character scene here and there. Had Nichols backed up those constant dreams with more scenes between Curtis and his wife or Curtis and a therapist then maybe Take Shelter wouldn’t have felt like a missed opportunity at something really great.
I liked Take Shelter, I honestly really enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help but notice several massive problems that could have easily been adjusted or fixed. When you have two all-star performers like Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, you really don’t have any excuses not to make a near perfect film. They gave it their all despite the flaws and I applaud them, but that doesn’t save the film completely. Take Shelter starts out convincing, but it never fully absorbs you. I lost interest somewhere in the middle, but appreciated the ending. The ending really did save the film from not being a complete waste of both time and more importantly talent.
Take Shelter – 8/10