Movie Review: “Take Shelter”

Written by Rachel Ganzewinkel December 01, 2011

Everyone better take shelter — minds are about to explode.

Take Shelter is a brilliant film written and directed by Jeff Nichols, a relative new comer. He has certainly made his mark on independent film with this gem about a man who begins having hallucinations (or are they visions?) of the approaching apocalypse. He begins to build a tornado shelter in his backyard, filling it with all of the end-of-the-world necessities such as gas masks, canned food, and cots.

This beautiful cinematic masterpiece sets the bar at a whole new high for movie-making. From the beginning of Take Shelter to the very end of the rolling credits you will be hooked. The film integrates horrifying visions within the quiet life of Curtis (Michael Shannon), Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) with ease, startling the audience to open their minds to something
unique. Take Shelter is transcendent and unparalleled to anything I have seen at the movies.

When Curtis begins to have these visions nobody else seems to see or understand the significance of, the subject of his mother being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia is introduced. This wedges another factor into the odd sights Curtis seems to see. Is he insane? When a parent is diagnosed with schizophrenia it is shown that their offspring has an unbelievably high risk of inheriting the same debilitating illness. With this fact in mind, one would assume, yes, he is.

Especially when he is experiencing such frighteningly real dreams as being ferociously attacked by his own dog, again, it is safe to assume that many would find such vivid hallucinations a sign of
an unsound mind.

But is he really? In a mental health care system that is seriously deficient in so many ways, such as switching up counselors without the patient’s knowledge, it can also be assumed that everyone is missing
something. Don’t just look on the surface for answers; don’t look to the most obvious. Yes his mother is a schizophrenic, but that doesn’t mean Curtis necessarily is.

The fact his young daughter, Hannah, is deaf adds another interesting dimension to this film. When someone loses a sense (whether it be sight, smell, hearing, touch, or taste), other senses become heightened to counter the loss of that sense. In this case, usually when someone uses their hearing abilities, sight improves drastically. Perhaps these visions are just another heightened sense, transferred from daughter to father as now Curtis must also learn to experience what it is like to be deaf through Hannah. He must learn sign language to communicate with her, and he must be extra
careful of their surroundings to ensure she is safe from harm.

These visions could be just a heightened sense of awareness of his surroundings. Interpreting such strange goings-on in a way nobody else seems to be in this small town. One scene where Curtis is at a public function, and is approached by an angry friend, escalates to a climax where we see he is adamant about his interpretation of these signs of an approaching storm—the world is ending. The apocalypse is coming and only he is prepared.

The signs seem to point to an apocalypse of biblical proportions. In this modern day where religious faith is waning, this kind of vision is seen as insane or ridiculous. But if Curtis was proclaiming the same things 200 years ago, he may have been believed. It is all a matter of faith and the ending (which I can’t ruin and won’t spoil) certainly asks the audience of them if they have faith in their protagonist.

Everything about this movie is hauntingly sensational. The performances by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain are subtly mind-blowing. You won’t know what hit you until after the lights come up in the theatre. Michael Shannon is one of the most criminally underused in the entertainment industry. His steel gaze and towering frame lend to a very intimidating demeanor but his ability to be sweet and caring and fatherly (example: when he bends down and signs to Hannah “I love you”) is what makes him a great actor.

Jessica Chastain, the beautiful and Meryl- Streep-level talented actress, who seemed to come out of nowhere, gives another natural performance in this. She makes it look easy. After coming out of left field in a mesmerizing performance in Tree of Life earlier this year, playing house as Celia in The Help, and now blowing people away in Take Shelter, this girl is on the fast track to Oscar glory. I just feel it.

All in all, Take Shelter is a film that grips you, holds you, and won’t let you go. It builds and builds and builds and you don’t know where it’s exactly going to go, but where it leads you is not disappointing—not even in the slightest. I wanted to watch it again after it ended. I want everyone to see this brilliantly
devastating film (at least twice).

My Rating: 9.5/10

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About Rachel Ganzewinkel

As a movie-obsessed movie reviewer, Rachel fits in being creative at UWO in her English and Creative Writing classes with judging and critiquing others' attempts at creativity in her reviews for We Eat Films.

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