Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon) lives in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and his six-year-old daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). Hannah is deaf. The family is tight on money, but they are happy and Curtis and Samantha are in love. Then, out of the blue, Curtis begins to have terrifying dreams about an upcoming apocalyptic storm. He chooses to keep this to himself, at least for now. What he does, though, is invest in building a large storm shelter in their backyard. He eventually tells the truth to his wife and she and we, the audience, are faced to decide if he is crazy or not.
What this movie does exceptionally well is keep you guessing whether Curtis is crazy or not. The suspense is handled exceptionally well. Every time Curtis is on-screen doing something you feel a strong foreboding tension. The dreams or visions he has are intense. The director went all out in those sequences. Every one was engaging, creepy, and kept you on pins and needles. It makes you want to see it again just to try to see if you can figure something out about the dreams. Many theories have surfaced about those dreams. Also, is he crazy or is he not thing has been done before. It usually works. But a good deal of the time the payoff to that big dilema just disappoints you. That’s not the case here. While you are watching this guy have these visions you get contrasting emotions. You want him to be right so he isn’t crazy. But if he’s right, then that means something bad is coming. Even when the movie hits a little rough patch, this always keeps it afloat. A big part of the credit has to go to Michael Shannon for his excellent performance.
This is only Jeff Nicholas’ second movie as a director and his first as a writer. His direction is spot on throughout the entire movie. He establishes an eerie, haunting feeling and sustains it to great effect. The script is well written and covers the plot nicely save for one little thing, the ending. I just want to say I didn’t have a big problem with the ending. It was a safe ending that you could see coming if you thought about it. I just thought, given how the movie played out, they would have tried something different. You could just feel there was some untapped potential in that area. I give major points for the script, though. It didn’t settle for average. It made put you in the head of the main characters and had some smart conversations dealing with insanity. In a way this can also be taken as a charachter study.
Shannon gives a powerhouse performance here. He is just as good here as he was in Revolutionary Road. The only difference is in this movie he gets the lead role. He completely dominates the screen the entire time. There’s not one second where he lets up. He has a lot of scenes where he is just doing something normal, but his facial expressions are so well done that they say everything. When he has a louder scene he doesn’t do it over the top and boy does he do a phenomenal job. This kind of role needed a guy like Shannon who can carry a movie of this magnitude. If his performance wasn’t as excellent as it was, the movie would have suffered for it. The rest of the cast are good. This seems like Jessica Chastain’s breakout year. With this movie, “The Help,” and “The Tree of Life” she has had a great year.
The special effects are done extremely well. The tornado like thing, that we see a few times, has a surprisingly different look than an ordinary tornado. It looks great and it gets you nervous. I don’t know exactly how they pulled this off, but they did. Another great thing is the editing. Scenes were cut before they became clichéd, or lingered past their welcome. This is editing at its very best. Take Shelter doesn’t have much of a score, but the little that they have is placed effectively. The sound editing in general is great. When I first heard the thunder, it startled me a bit.
Questions are raised and answers are left to our own opinions and interpretations. It’s a journey that causes us to look inside ourselves and discover how far we’d allow our minds to dissolve before losing trust. Sanity is put against insanity, both possessing unknown definitions. The nuanced study of psychological could have been taken a bit further though. Take Shelter is a marvelous and unique experience. It did so much right. Still, I have to say that I felt that there was something missing that could have pushed it over the edge. This, of course, would be that ending. If they would have done something unique with the ending then this movie would have been completely perfect. Still, even with that said, there’s still lots of great things. Every reaction to the characters is dealt with in a realistic way. The acting is top-notch, there is great suspense, very good script and direction, and great visuals and editing. After you finish seeing Take Shelter for the first time it will have the same effect on you as a tornado does – you will be blown away by the sheer power of it.