Newcomer Jeff Nichols’ sophomore feature chronicles one man’s bewildering condition that plagues him with vivid nightmares at night and hallucinations of storms during the day. Both the nightmares and hallucinations seem to predict an upcoming apocalyptic storm that nobody has foreseen. Nichols’ film pleasantly blends drama, sci-fi, and even some elements of horror to tell this odd but refreshingly original story. Unfortunately, the super-sluggish mid-section of this indie flick ends up overshadowing some powerful performances at it’s conclusion.
Michael Shannon (“Boardwalk Empire”) plays average-joe Curtis, who works at a sand company in order to support his wife Samantha (played by Jessica Chastain) and young daughter. Money is tight, but the family gets by. One night, Curtis starts having vivid nightmares of disastrous storms that he can’t make sense of. Not wanting to worry Samantha, Curtis keeps his troubles to himself, despite his condition growing worse after each day. Not long after the nightmares start, he begins experiencing hallucinations of thunder and lighting storms during the day as well.
Curtis is split – part of him believes that these visions are truly prophetic, while another part of him wonders if his family history of mental illness has claimed its latest victim. Uncertain of the truth, he decides to satisfy both possibilities by seeking professional help for his mental disorder while also bulking up the existing tornado shelter in his backyard. He can only keep his secret for so long, and once word begins to spread through town about what Curtis has been up to, he’s quickly seen as insane. Will Curtis have to seek serious professional treatment, or will he be redeemed by the sudden appearance of the catastrophic storm he’s been envisioning?
The greatest flaw of “Take Shelter” is it’s length: the two hour run-time is far too long and causes the film to really drag at the midpoint. Trimming the picture down to an hour and a half would have helped, but honestly this tale may have been more effective as just a short film. A number of superfluous scenes could easily be cut without detracting from the plot, particularly visits involving Curtis’ mother and brother. Though Nichols’ unique story has a moving conclusion, it takes forever to get there.
Though the film as a whole turns out to be a dud, credit is due to Chastain and Shannon for their moving closing scenes. As Curtis’ psychosis reaches it’s pinnacle, its agonizing to watch him struggle with the confusion of determining what is real. In a pivotal scene that takes place in the damp, dark confines of Curtis’ expanded tornado shelter, he reaches the breaking point and it becomes unclear what will become of him. In the same scene, Chastain matches Shannon with an equally moving performance.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain
Samantha knows that without her help, Curtis could lose his mind in this moment. It’s really a shame that the impressive work of these two actors comes too late in the game to save the film.
Points to Jeff Nichols for creating such an out-of-the-box story and telling it in a way that pulls from multiple genres of drama, science-fiction, and horror. Sadly the film suffers from a drawn-out second act that detracts from it’s surprisingly touching ending. For the best result, watch the first 20 minutes and then skip to the final 15.