Jeff Nichols debut directorial feature Shotgun Stories proved an independent and critical success. his follow-up, Take Shelter swept through the independent awards season like a tornado. Cruelly avoided by both the BAFTAs and Oscars, Nichols has every right to feel aggrieved as Take Shelter became one of the stand-out films of 2011. It failed to make its budget back at the box office due to a limited release and almost no marketing, but has faired better upon its home entertainment release.
Casting Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain as Curtis and Samantha, a married couple with a deaf daughter, Take Shelter follows a short period in their life when Curtis begins to suffer hallucinations. He begins by seeing a tornado tearing through his house, which initially causes him to think that he is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but unsure he begins building a tornado bunker in his back garden so that he and his family have somewhere to take shelter. As he spends more and more time and money on the bunker, his relationship with Samantha begins to become stretched.
Take Shelter is a startling character drama that relies upon the performances of Shannon and Chastain. Luckily both are on startling form, with Shannon especially giving an absolute powerhouse performance as a man torn between genuine love for his families well-being and confusion over the state of his own psyche. Intense, harrowing and incredibly sympathetic, Take Shelter presents Curtis as a normal family man whose life is ripped apart by a potentially devastating disease.
Nichols does an excellent job of building tension in this sometimes ambiguous, but always engaging character drama. Curtis’ dreams/hallucinations are beautiful and memorable, while the constant spectre of a tornado, symbolising his internal strife make Take Shelter an almost Shakespearean tragedy. While it lacks a truly satisfying conclusion, the nature of the final scenes leave the audience with questions that are posed throughout. While a minor frustration it’s nice not to be completely lead a film’s narrative and instead asked to question and think.
Similar to experience than Terrence Malick’s best work, Take Shelter is an affecting, methodical character drama that grips you early on and exposes you to a breakdown of a man who thinks he is losing his mind.