Clouds gather, wind roars, rain pours.

Take Shelter

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            People will react to Take Shelter in distinctly personal ways. I'll tell you mine. For one thing, as a young person I always felt acute disappointment when an author took refuge in revealing that the story he had just told me was a dream. I felt tricked by the discovery that after putting my full faith into his hands and suffering along with his characters, none of it had really happened. In Take Shelter, writer/director Jeff Nichols undermines his own strong story by using this device repeatedly when he could easily have invited us into the dreams that are central to his promising story.
            Let me backpedal. Curtis (Michael Shannon), his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) live a good life in a rural landscape. Samantha makes jewelry that she sells at the county fair, Curtis works for a construction company as foreman of a drilling team. He loves his family, and they love him back. As our eyes wander across fields that stretch under blue sky around them, we know we will see a movie made with professionalism and care.
            On the day after which nothing will ever be the same for him again, Curtis stares skyward studying the cloud formations of an approaching storm while raindrops fall onto his outstretched hands. These are not ordinary raindrops. And so the elements become the main character of this story. Clouds gather, wind roars, rain pours; birds fly in Hitchcockian formations.
            After suffering several frightening nightmares born of the ominous nature of the weather, Curtis becomes intensely preoccupied with building and stocking a storm shelter behind his house. As the preoccupation becomes obsession, co-workers, friends, his wife, and certainly the audience start to question his stability. When Curtis says, "I'm afraid something might be coming; I can't describe it," we start to ask questions of ourselves. Will he or won't he be justified? Is the weather deteriorating or is it in his mind? Is Curtis prescient or mentally ill? Intelligent and sensible, he seeks professional help, and at too long last, he shares his fears with his wife. This is a fine central dilemma in search of illumination. But director Nichols slips.
            With good actors on hand to develop his intriguing premise, he did not have to resort to the shock factors of sudden loud sounds, a booming soundtrack, and the trickery of blurring dreams with reality. In spite of convincing performances by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, we are a bit embittered. By this time we have endured five nightmares involving earthquakes, an abduction, a train wreck, a vicious dog, and a pickaxe. After the nightmares, we are finally on a level playing field where we can decide for ourselves whether Curtis has been having delusions or visions, but, true to his way, director Nichols has one more surprise in store for us. His final twist is a good one perfectly in accord with his central premise. Partial redemption.


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