Since I’ve been attending film festivals, there’s always been that one film that that leaves me slack-jawed. It sticks in my head for the duration of my stay, and all I want to do is talk about it. If time allows, I’ll catch a second or third screening of it. The fun part is taking fresh eyes with me, peeking at their reactions during certain parts, and talking about it as we exit the theater. This year at Sundance 2011, that film is Jeff Nichols’ TAKE SHELTER.
TAKE SHELTER questions dreams, faith, and trust, and challenges paranoia, fear, and anxiety. Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is living a fairly good life. He has a roof over his head, a good job as a crew chief for a sand mining company, a loving wife named Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and an adorable young daughter named Hannah (Tova Stewart). The only hiccup in their road is Hannah’s disability — she’s recently become deaf, and Curtis’ health insurance at his new job hasn’t kicked in just yet, and she needs a cochlear implant.
From the first shot in the film, Curtis starts having terrifying dreams. They start with a wicked storm, pouring rain that resembles motor oil, and they end with him awakening to screams and real pain. Each one gets progressively worse. Are they predicting the end of the world? Appearing so undeniably real, Curtis starts to confuse real life with the dream world. As paranoia starts to take a toll, he begins to build a living quarters underground, risking his job security, marriage, and friends.
TAKE SHELTER stars Michael Shannon, which hammered a “sold” sign in my brain once I read he was attached. Shannon is the greatest underrated actor (have you seen him in THE RUNAWAYS? — powerful) we’ve ever had, which is why it’s so wonderful to see him get top billing as he career continues. What makes him so great is those creepy eyes — he’s proven to the world that you don’t need a pretty face to have a solid acting career. I could watch this guy stare at a wall for 90 minutes and still be captivated. In TAKE SHELTER, he’s a six foot stick of star dynamite. When he walks into the tornado shelter for the first time, he just sits on a bench, looking around at the walls. We don’t know what he’s thinking, only that something big is about to happen. It’s captivating.
TAKE SHELTER displays Curtis and Samantha’s love for each other and Hannah through their actions. When Curtis comes home from work late, he still takes off his shoes at the back door so he won’t wake Hannah up. Samantha still whispers, even though they both know she can’t hear them. The love her as much as the universe allows. As for each other, their love is tested on multiple occasions and it’s up to them to stand by each other and show the world. When Curtis thinks he’s might be catching a mild-turned-major case of schizophrenia, love is really put on the thin ice. These nightmares haunt and eat at him.
TAKE SHELTER is proof that you don’t need to heavily rely on CGI to make a good story about the apocalypse. Yes, there is limited CGI in the film (digital hat nod to Hydraulx), but it’s only there to give our story a push. When we get to our visual effects scenes, it’s impressive. One scene in particular I will not spoil, but know that it’s something you’d expect out of a Chris Nolan flick. This film though, is driven by its central characters, Curtis and Samantha. As mentioned above, Shannon has no problem keeping my interest. Neither did Chastain - she gives us her all as Samantha and it’s powerful. By the end of the film, we are aching to see The LaForche’s make it through everything.
This film is is not supposed to be focused on a possible apocalypse. This is a story about love, communication, and family. When TAKE SHELTER takes refuge in theaters sometime this year, grab your significant other’s hand, and lead them to see this.