Is Michael Shannon’s Curtis the ultimate doomsday prepper, and with good reason to be? Or is he suffering from paranoid schizophrenia as his mother did before him? Do his stormy visions make him someone to be viewed as crazy, as the other, or is he gifted beyond the understanding of his peers? Perhaps, in fact, he is both paranoid and correct in his apocalyptic predictions?
Take Shelter touches on similar territory to that covered by writer/director Jeff Nichols in his 2016 effort, Midnight Special, a much-lauded, but in truth quite ponderous film, despite presenting some interesting ideas. But where in that movie the mysterious abilities of Jaeden Lieberher’s Alton are presented as fact, and the scale of the threat to his existence and freedom extends as far as the FBI and the US government, conversely in Take Shelter, the opposite is true. The conflict is largely internal, rather than external. Curtis is stuck in a battle between his family’s history of mental illness and his all too real premonitions of an impending apocalypse. He’s positioned as an unreliable protagonist, us as the audience viewing him with the same pity that he’s given by his wife (the ever-brilliant Jessica Chastain) and his best friend (Shea Whigham). And all the while it’s hinted that maybe, just maybe he’s not actually as deluded as we might initially think.
It’s a fascinatingly insular focus, the weight of which rests solely on the shoulders of Shannon who puts in a powerful performance, operating on intensity levels akin to those he delivered in The Shape of Water and Boardwalk Empire. His performance is still, but with a bubbling inner turmoil that he does so well. The building pressure of his mental state is reflected visually on screen, the cinematography becoming gloomier as Curtis’s night and daydreams are invaded by dark oppressive clouds, birds undulating across the skies in an inexplicable formation and yellow rains falling. Each phenomenon overbearingly fills the screen, bringing a sense of dread that Nichols builds upon effectively throughout, all the way up to the heightened paranoia of the third and final act, with an ending as fittingly bold as the story that’s proceeded it.
Curtis probably is losing his mind, but you know what, perhaps we should all start preparing our storm bunkers…just in case?
Rating (out of 5):
Take Shelter’s limited edition Blu-ray is released on September 3rd, courtesy of Second Sight, and includes a stunning collector’s 40-page book.