Take Shelter

Take Shelter, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is a powerful and disturbing film about a man struggling to keep his sanity. Curtis (Michael Shannon) works for a sand mining company in Ohio. He and his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), struggle to make ends meet, while raising their daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf. Samantha has to struggle to get their insurance provider to pay for Hannah’s treatment. (Sound familiar?) Curtis begins having vivid and disturbing dreams about storms. In some of them, he and Hannah are physically attacked. Curtis begins to believe that the dreams are a sign that a terrible storm is coming. He becomes obsessed with the idea of expanding a storm shelter in his backyard. He takes out a risky loan to pay for it, even though he and Samantha already owe a lot of money. He “borrows” equipment from his workplace to carry this out, which results in his being fired. This strains his marriage almost to the breaking point. Curtis begins to question his own sanity. His mother suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, so Curtis begins to wonder if he is beginning to develop this illness himself. However, the growing hostility of his neighbors, who believe he is crazy, merely cause him to convince himself that his fears are correct. When a storm hits the town, Curtis believes that his dreams are coming true. He and his family rush into the storm shelter. After a good deal of time has passed, Samanth tells Curtis the storm has passed, but Curtis refuses to believe it. It is with a great deal of difficulty that she persuades him to open the shelter door.

Nichols is very good at creating a sense of foreboding. He has a remarkable ability to give the impression that a lot more is going on than what we see on the screen. In one of the dream scenes, for example, we basically see Samantha standing next to a kitchen counter with a knife on it. Somehow this scene conveys such a feeling of menace that it creeped me out. (I swear, I still get goosebumps when I think about it.) Shannon and Chastain give excellent performances. Shannon makes his character’s extreme behavior completely believable.

My criticism of this film is that it goes on too long. It should end right after Curtis and his family emerge from the shelter. Instead, it goes on to a “trick” ending that I found unconvincing and a bit too cute. Also, the family’s financial concerns, which are enormous, inexplicably seem to disappear towards the end.

Still, I highly recommend seeing Take Shelter.

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