Take Shelter

Curtis LaForche is a happily married family man in Ohio. With a solid construction job including generous benefits, he earns a decent living for his loving wife and daughter. That’s good because 6 year old Hannah is deaf and in need of an expensive medical procedure.  Michael unexpectedly begins having dreams of an imminent storm. But are these actual visions of things to come or the sign of dementia setting in? You see his own mother was committed 30 years prior when she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia at the same age Curtis is now. This weighs on him as he contends with his unraveling sanity. These visions become more frequent and threatening as they start to involve his wife and daughter, his co-workers, even the family dog.

Take Shelter reasonably unfolds rather effectively despite the way things spiral mentally out of control. The hallucinations aren’t overly done. They’re darkly ominous and believable. These haunting flourishes are powerful given the rest of the film is so austere. As they pile on top of each other we suffer his impending sense of dread. It’s almost as if he reveals them to his wife, they will confirm he’s going crazy. So he doesn’t at first, relying on a counselor named Kendra to disclose them. But as soon as he starts to depend on her, she is transferred.

Michael Shannon’s helplessness is perfectly conveyed through his actions even when he doesn‘t verbalize them. He initiates changes in his life based on these premonitions. He embarks on constructing a storm shelter and his behavior has less than ideal consequences on his job and his marriage. The tension builds as a patriarch who slowly unravels in a once tranquil household. He’s mesmerizing. It’s a slow burn performance that grabs you with its intensity. In contrast, Jessica Chastain is warmth and compassion personified as his devoted wife who desperately tries to understand what is going on. Initially she is in the dark regarding the severity of his condition, but is gradually made aware. She conveys all the anxiety the audience is feeling.

Take Shelter can be taken as a brilliant psychological character study, an allegory about uncertainly in troubled times, or as simply advocating the support of loved ones in the face of mounting difficulties. It wholly relies on the performances of its two leads to convey these themes. They engender our sympathy and so the script works. It’s not a particularity well plotted movie. The story moves forward through dialogue more than actual events. But as an emotional journey it’s moving. See it for Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. They make the trip worthwhile.

16 Responses to “Take Shelter”

  1. This was a great, well acted movie. I loved the dream sequences and the closeness of the family. Jessica is becoming a favorite actress of mine.


  2. Nice. It sounds pretty awesome. Any kind of horror, whether or not the movie is an actual horror film, works best when you take the journey with the characters.

    I’m getting ready to watch Jessica Chastain in Tree of Life in about another hour.


  3. Markus Robinson Says:

    Well written review, but I don’t think this movie was a deep as everyone is making it out to be. But thats just my opinion.


    • It was more heartfelt and authentic than deep. Such raw emotion. I thought Michael Shannon was incredibly compelling and Jessica Chastain supported him well as a rational presence his life. I predict at least one nomination for this film. I wish you liked it as much as I did.


      • Markus Robinson Says:

        I mean, I understand what your saying about Shannon’s deep emotional acting, and I know we don’t see eye to eye on Chastain’s performance, but if Oscar or even Golden Globe consideration is given to anything from this film I’d be shocked. I wish I had liked this movie as well. But it really gave me nothing to care about though. The pace grinds you into submission, the storyline is mehhh, average at best, and the visuals are there but with no real payoff, so while Shannon is GREAT, everything around him fall flat. by the way, love the new headshot.


  4. Opens in Portland this Friday; number one on my list of things to see. (P.S. I saw the first 10 minutes of FOOTLOOSE Sunday night but wasn’t feeling well and ended up leaving; the movie itself seemed awful from what I saw though – may catch up with it with a free ticket or on video)…


    • Yeah I don’t plan on seeing Footloose. I like the original, but I’ve heard this is a scene for scene remake. Not essential viewing. Surprisingly the reviews have been decent.


  5. Nice review, Mark! I’d heard of this film’s Oscar buzz but I wasn’t aware it had already opened! Hopefully it will open here in Mexico soon 🙂 Although I’ve only seen Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain once (Revolutionary Road and The Tree of Life, respectively), I think they’re terrific actors.


    • Believe it or not, Michael Shannon made his feature film debut way back in 1993 with Groundhog Day. He’s been acting in movies ever since. I suspect you may have seen him before in a film and not known it. This is the first time I can remember where he plays the lead though. He was incredible!


  6. Great review man! This is the second praising review I have read for this film and I cannot wait to see it. Fantastic work.


  7. Really good review.


  8. GaryLee828 Says:

    I think I liked this one slightly more than you; i would have given it 4 stars.

    Although we have different interpretations, hopefully you like the entry I wrote on this.

    I agree about the raw emotion conveyed so immaculately by Michael Shannon; and that dinner scene when he flipped over the table was one of the best pieces of acting you’ll see in modern cinema. I think some of the very best veterans from any era would appreciate this performance, that scene in particular.

    If I audition for a role again, I should perform that monologue; the last time I did Alec Baldwin’s scene from “Glengarry Glen Ross”. lol.


    • I really enjoyed this. I wouldn’t make a huge distinction between 3 ½ vs. 4 stars. I’ll have to read your interpretation, although I didn’t really give mine here. Just basically gave my recommendation that people should see this.


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