Director: Jeff Nichols
121 minutes (15) 2011
Second Sight Blu-ray region B
Review by Christopher Geary
Jeff Nichols’ second feature, Take Shelter is basically a psycho-chiller about one man’s fall into madness. Working-class dad Curtis (Michael Shannon, The Runaways biopic, and star of director Nichols’ debut Shotgun Stories) lives in a small-town in Ohio with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar, Miss Sloan, Molly’s Game), and his daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) - who needs an expensive operation to fix her deafness.
Curtis begins suffering apocalyptic nightmares of escalating weirdness: yellowy rain, freaky storms, a dog attack, poltergeist activity or alien visitation, and what could be viewed as zombies. He wakes up one morning having wet the bed, but he’s still too ashamed to tell Sam about his dreams. Their family doctor prescribes mild sedatives, and refers Curtis to a psychiatrist in the city but, knowing that his wife would find his absence too suspicious, Curtis agrees to see a local counsellor instead.
Following a panic attack at work, Curtis frets about the paranoid schizophrenia which afflicted his mother, decades ago. He fears that his delusions or hallucinations - which are all psychological horrors, so far - are proof that he’s inherited his mother’s illness. Sam thinks Curtis has gone crazy when he starts digging up their backyard to extend an old tornado shelter into a survival bunker. She doesn’t know about the bad dreams until Curtis has a seizure in his sleep. Once she’s heard about his nightmares and understood his fears about mental health, Sam is level-headed and remains loyal, although she struggles to cope with his bizarre behaviour, and worries about how this may affect young Hannah.
The eerie story reaches its big emotional climax when Curtis is confronted by a former workmate with a score to settle, and the argument unleashes a public outburst by Curtis, ranting a dire warning to the Lions Club community of local families. As if to prove him right later, rather than sooner, there are sirens wailing and Curtis leads his wife and kid into the relative safety of their new shelter. The family sleep through a tornado, but “what if it’s not over?” worries Curtis. It’s the first of many what-ifs that punctuate this drama.
Like a scaled-down indie version of Alex Proyas’ Knowing (2009), Take Shelter lacks grandly spectacular visions of inexplicable disaster, but it more than makes up for that with its mix of real world anxieties (unemployment and recession descend upon Curtis and his family), and the sheer oddness of a gloomy fable about the potential terrors of any sudden climate change. However, Take Shelter is nothing like Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow (2004). On the genre spectrum, it’s much closer to Larry Fessenden’s excellent The Last Winter (2006), especially when, unsurprisingly, it finishes with an IOU for its end-of-days scenario.